Completely Retail Marketplace: cause for optimism as market heats up

1st May 2024 | Jack Oliver

Spirits were high at the Completely Retail Marketplace event on 30th April, as activity in the retail and leisure property market shows no signs of slowing down.

There was a buzz at Old Billingsgate, as an attendance of over 1,500 property professionals, retailers, and occupiers demonstrated a continuing demand for space in a market which has taken somewhat of a beating over the last few years.

One retailer said that despite “a lot more optimism in the market”, the issue now is being able to find enough space to open new stores, as a desire to expand into untapped markets is hindered by the unavailability of suitable, and large enough, retail units.

This view was echoed by one agent, who said that high demand means there simply isn’t enough space to let at times, save for some small pockets of development.

Business rates also remained high on the agenda, with some occupiers put off by the UK’s demanding rates system.

Despite this, some food and beverage operators are finding alternative ways to meet their requirements. Loungers, the company behind the Lounge, Cosy Club, and Brightside concepts, said its strategy involved targeting “unfashionable” high streets. The group opened 36 sites last year with no sign of letting up, and is seeing “phenomenal” trading in coastal locations – its best performing category.

Retailers and operators in attendance included supermarket giants Tesco, Aldi, and Lidl, food and beverage staples including Burger King, KFC, and Greggs, and high street retailers such as Specsavers, Søstrene Grene, and M&S. All of these brands have extensive requirement lists and have expressed a desire to expand their footprint.

They were joined by a number of young entrepreneurs, who pitched their businesses at the Soapbox competition for a chance to win a month’s worth of rent-free space at one of Landsec’s flexible pop-up spaces. Elizabeth Ola, the founder of cosmetics brand TRU SKN and this year’s competition winner, said it had been an “amazing experience”, despite feeling unwell on the day.

“If you see an opportunity, and you’re not sure, you should definitely go for it because you never know what might happen”, she urged other budding entrepreneurs.

Elizabeth and her fellow fledgling retailers may feel buoyed by today’s seemingly healthy and competitive market, and an increasingly hungry industry which, according to one attendee, isn’t as good at getting together post-COVID. Tuesday’s turnout suggests perhaps this too is set to change.


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