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Indies Resilient But Chains Take Opportunities to Cut Costs and Close Stores

Published on: 11 May, 2019
Updated on: 14 May, 2019

By Hugh Coakley

While five new independent shops opened in Guildford recently, the West Cornwall Pasty Co closed without warning today (Saturday, May 11) and two further chains with branches in the town have signalled that it is likely they will be closing some of their national stores.

Topshop in a prime location in The Friary. Topshop owners, Sir Philip Green’s Arcadia Group, are considering a CVA which may mean store closures.

The West Cornwall Pasty Co shop in North Street closed without warning. A sign in the window said, “Unfortunately we are closing and hope to see you at our site at the station soon.”

The optimism shown by independent traders in Guildford is in contrast to the continuing list of top brand shop closures and company voluntary arrangements (CVA) negotiated with landlords and creditors over the last year.

Ace Bicycles newly open in Burpham.

Guildford stores that have closed or have said that they would close shortly include Thomas Cook, Santander, Mothercare, Maplins, Steamer Trading Cookshop, New Look and Debenhams, which is planned to close in early 2020 and today, the West Cornwall Pasty Co. One staff member said the branch had been running at a loss for some time.

Brand stores that have remained open after going into administration or a CVA include House of Fraser, LK Bennett, Giraffe, HMV and Patisserie Valerie.

Mac and Phones just opened in Bridge Street.

And now Topman, in a prominent location in The Friary, and Cotswold Outdoors in Friary Street, could both be heading for a cull of their high street shops.

Sir Philip Green, boss of the retail giant Arcadia Group which includes Topman, is said to be considering closing shops and entering into a CVA to enable it to cut costs. But landlords are reported to be reluctant to grant Sir Philip concessions given his reported personal wealth of £4bn.

Kernow Model Rail Centre in Stoke Road opened in April where Pedal Pushers traded for many years.

Smaller shops, of course, don’t have the same negotiating power as the big companies. One local independent trader in North Street said to The Guildford Dragon NEWS: “We can’t just negotiate reductions with our landlords.  It is ok for the big chains to cut costs by closing shops down and then use their muscle and CVAs to get rents cut, but we can’t do that.”

Purrfect Pet Care in White Lion Walk

The five new Indies in Guildford are: Ace Bicycles Ltd in Burpham, Mac and Phones in Bridge Street where Pony Express was located for many years, Kernow Model Rail Centre in Stoke Road replacing Pedal Pushers, Purrfect Pet Care in White Lion Walk and Charmé, the jewellery shop in White Lion Walk.

And another new shop, iStore, the Apple reseller and repairer with nine other shops around the country, have set up in the same store in Friary Street as Solutions Inc, who called in the administrators in February this year.

Charmé, the new jewellers in White Lion Walk.

Whilst new Indies are opening, it is still a tough market and some of them have closed including the Fresh Choices café and Wesley & Barrell furniture shop, both in North Street.

Guildford town centre has seen reduced footfall over the last year but it still remains a better performer than high streets nationally or even elsewhere in the South East. The latest figures from Experience Guildford show that the shop vacancy rate in Guildford is 6.6% compared to 8% in the South East and 10.4% nationally.

Amanda Masters, General Manager of Experience Guildford, spoke to The Guildford Dragon NEWS about rents and business rates. She said: “Landlords are being squeezed after having it so good for so long but there needs to be reform from government on business rates as well. The system is completely out of date.

“But our Indies are great. It’s a tough trading climate for anybody but the Guildford Indies have a brilliant resilience.”

And it would seem that independent traders are more likely to tough it out compared to the chains.

Maybe they don’t have an option. One trader said: “It’s not as good as it could be but I’m paying my bills and getting by. I love doing it and it’s all I know.”

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