UK High Street with buskers playing music

The plight of the UK’s high streets continues to make headlines, with new research in September revealing record numbers of stores closures in the first half of 2019. Whilst fashion retailers and chain restaurants were some of the hardest-hit sectors, the mobility industry has also not been immune, with a number of dealers disappearing from the high street. With a vast number of high street mobility shops, however, managing to survive and thrive, is there still a place for high street retailers?

With the modern retail landscape shifting, fuelled by the internet and a change in shopping habits, the sustainability of traditional retail hubs such as the high street and town shopping centres are being called into question.

It seems almost weekly basis that a former pillar of the high street and town centre seems to be crumbling, with the recent Bathstore rescue and the disappearance of Thomas Cook’s 600 travel agencies as the latest examples.

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Seemingly impacting all sectors, the mobility market also has had its share of high street causalities, with East Anglian-based Beactive Mobility announcing at the start of September that it had taken the difficult decision to shut the doors of its Diss branch for good.

Having sold mobility aids and provided its services to the people of Diss for over a decade, David Smith, Managing Director of Beactive Mobility, told the Diss Express: “Part of the reason is the costs involved in running a store in Diss,” he said.

“We have to go out to see customers a lot and, with deliveries, it’s become very difficult to park in the town since the council changed all the parking rules for the rear of the store and the car park in Chapel Street.”

The closure of its Diss outlet has reduced the mobility retailer’s store portfolio to three, with its branches in Great Yarmouth and Norwich, alongside its headquarters in Lowestoft, remaining.

“As consumers continue to change the way they shop and spend their leisure time, the reality is that we may need fewer high streets in the future.” Lisa Hooker

The mobility dealer confirmed that the town’s current customers will now be looked after by its branches in Lowestoft and Norwich, as well expressed its sadness of having to close the local branch.

A sign of the times

The closure follows a number of mobility retailers that have made the tough choice to close stores, often with running costs and business rates being key considerations.

“We are excited for the forthcoming year so watch this space for more large stores on retail parks.” Mike Williams

Earlier in the year, THIIS spoke with More Than Mobility’s Managing Director Jemma Dunn after the company announced it was to shut its Sidmouth store on the South West Coast.

The company, which also has stores in Plymouth and Northampton, shut the doors of the branch for the final time at the end of March.

“Unfortunately, we’ve had to close our Sidmouth store due to rising rent and rate costs,” said Jemma at the time.

“The lease is due to finish in the next month and as the Sidmouth store has not been selling as well as our other stores and with the costs going up, we decided that we would shut that store.”

Throughout the last 12 months, a string of mobility retailers high street and town centre-based operations have shut shops or ceased trading, including Derby’s Mobility At Home and Southborough’s Tunbridge Wells Mobility.

Record closures

According to research by the Local Data Company (LDC) and PwC, store closures are on the rise, with the first half of 2019 seeing the highest rates of shops shutting since analysis began in 2010.

A total of 2,868 chain stores disappeared from Britain’s top 500 high streets in the first half of the year, whilst only 1,634 stores opened, resulting in a net decline of 1,234 stores.

high street stores image
A shift in consumer habits has hit many high streets in towns across the UK hard, reflected in recent research by PwC and BRC

“The record net decline in store numbers in the first half of 2019 shows that there’s been no let-up in the changing ways that people shop and the cost pressures affecting high street operators,” said Lisa Hooker, Consumer Markets Leader at PwC.

“While retailers need to keep investing to make sure their stores and propositions are relevant to today’s consumers, it’s also critical that all stakeholders find ways to ease the burden on operators, keep investing in the high street, and encourage new and different types of operators to fill vacant space.”

Fashion retailers, chain restaurants such as Jamie’s Italian, estate agents and pubs were among the hardest hit say PwC and LDC, with experts citing rising high street operating costs as a fundamental underlying cause.

“We have a great pedestrianised location that is next to complementary shops including the Post Office and charity stores in the town” Tracy Simmons

As more stores retrench from the UK’s high streets, the issue of falling football is likely to compound, with fewer reasons to visit the high street negatively impacting those remaining retailers.

A move out of town

The rising rates of high street closures have led to some in the industry to pursue a brick and mortar offering focusing on out of town locations, often set in retail parks.

Recently, Middletons has embarked on an ambitious store opening programme, focusing on large retail spaces situated in retail parks, where the company can enjoy ample free parking and larger retail space to stock and display more products.

In addition, Ableworld, the UK’s largest mobility retailer, is preparing to launch more mobility outlets in the coming year, based on this out-of-town model.

Ableworld Stafford Shop front at launch
Ableworld’s MD Mike Williams sees retail parks playing a far more significant role in the national retailer’s future

“We are excited for the forthcoming year so watch this space for more large stores on retail parks,” commented Mike Williams, Ableworld’s Managing Director.

“Between ourselves and franchises, we are aiming to open at least another three to four stores in the coming twelve months and we intend to carry on being the leading mobility and stairlift retailer in the country.”

Bucking the trend

Flying in the face of the doom and gloom surrounding the high street however, there are many retailers in the industry that continue to enjoy success on the high street, along with new mobility stores springing up on high streets across the country.

Easy Living Mobility Hanley store
Undeterred by the declining high street data, Easy Living Mobility is continuing to enjoy success on the high street and has expanded it operations with a new store in Hanley

In the last three months, leading mobility retailers Shire Mobility, Parkgate Mobility, Mobility & Lifestyle and Easy Living Mobility have all launched new high street mobility stores.

Opening its new branch on Retford’s high street, Tracy Simmons, Parkgate Mobility’s General Manager, explained the decision to launch its new store on the high street.

“We have a great pedestrianised location that is next to complementary shops including the Post Office and charity stores in the town, so we expect to see a good amount of footfall,” commented Tracy.

“Anyone arriving in the town by bus will have to walk past our new store and we have a major carpark next to the store as well.”

In addition, Tracy mentions that by embedding the store into the heart of the town, it positions Parkgate Mobility as part of the community, presenting the company with the opportunity to establish relationships with residents of the same town.

“Retford itself is a small but busy town that has a great community feel to it and it also attracts people from surrounding areas because it is a nice place to visit, so it is a great location,” he noted.

“We have already had interested residents stopping when passing by to ask us what the store will be so it is already generating interest before we have even opened the doors.”

With many retailers opting for smaller high street stores to keep costs manageable, a common criticism of operating on the high street is the inability to hold significant stock in store. Through strategically choosing the locations of its stores, however, Parkgate Mobility is able to operate central warehousing, reducing the need to store stock in-store and affording the company the opportunity to maximise space to merchandise its ranges.

Similarly, in Easy Living Mobility’s Daniel Griffiths’ Trade Talks, he justifies his decision to open a new high street outlet on the small town of Hanley’s high street.

Not all doom and gloom

“The good news is that there are green shoots, as new entrants are entering even embattled sectors such as fashion. Our research tells us that consumers still want to spend their money in well located and invested stores and leisure venues on the high street,” finished PwC’s Lisa.

“However, as consumers continue to change the way they shop and spend their leisure time, the reality is that we may need fewer high streets in the future.”

Despite the research reinforcing that the high street will continue to face difficulty adjusting to the modern retail environment, established mobility retailers are still seeing the opportunity to make the high street work for them, suggesting it may be too soon to write the high street off just yet.


Interested to hear what five of the mobility industry’s leading retailers had to say about the sustainability of the high street for mobility businesses? Check out October’s contentious ‘Trade Thought’ on the topic.

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https://i1.wp.com/thiis.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/UK-high-street-unsustainable.jpg?fit=1000%2C667&ssl=1https://i1.wp.com/thiis.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/UK-high-street-unsustainable.jpg?resize=150%2C150&ssl=1Calvin BarnettIndustry topicsNewsroomTrade FocusAbleworld,Bathstore,BeActive Mobility,Easy Living Mobility,footfall,High Street,Middletons,Mobility & Lifestyle,mobility branch,mobility retailer,mobility shop,parkgate mobility,PwC,Thomas Cook,trade thoughtThe plight of the UK’s high streets continues to make headlines, with new research in September revealing record numbers of stores closures in the first half of 2019. Whilst fashion retailers and chain restaurants were some of the hardest-hit sectors, the mobility industry has also not been immune, with...News, views & products for mobility, access and independent living professionals