Special report: Norwich's retail economy is bucking the trend

PUBLISHED: 10:58 11 November 2015 | UPDATED: 11:04 11 November 2015

Jarrold the store, Norwich. Photo : Steve Adams

Jarrold the store, Norwich. Photo : Steve Adams

Copyright Archant Norfolk 2015

Norwich's retail economy is going from strength-to-strength, according to research underscoring the city's reputation as a shopping hot spot.

Black Friday boost

Retailers are more confident of achieving bumper sales this Christmas thanks to a shot in the arm from Black Friday, a report has found.

More than three quarters (77pc) of UK retailers expect a better festive sales performance this year, while 79pc believe revenues will rise, according to the Barclays Christmas Survey.

The study revealed that 77pc of retailers will hold a Black Friday promotion, showing how the American discount day, where shops slash prices on the fourth Friday in November, is gaining traction in the UK.

Meanwhile, click and collect is expected to be the delivery channel with the biggest growth, rising 25pc compared to last year.

Jane Galvin, of Barclays Eastern Region, said: “When Black Friday first came to the UK, the industry speculated about whether it was just a fad or would really take hold. This research shows that it appears to be here to stay.”

“As long as retailers focus on selected lines and manage the level of discounting appropriately, this increased participation can contribute to a successful Christmas season.”

The city’s retail sector is enjoying growing footfall and a drop in the number of empty shops, despite continued pressure from the rise of online shopping.

It comes as anecdotal evidence suggests that there is “pent up demand” from big name stores and independent retailers looking to move into the city.

But while Norfolk market towns have also recorded low vacancy rates, the fall has been partly caused by government changes to planning rules which allow empty shops to be converted into homes.

According to Norwich’s Business Improvement District (BID), footfall in the city was up 2.2pc year-on-year in 2015, compared to a 1.3pc fall across the UK.

‘Good year’ for department store

The owner of independent department store Jarrold bolstered its profits and turnover after returning strength in the local economy drove home a “good year”.

Jarrold & Sons saw pre-tax profits grow 40pc to £3m to the end of February 2015, while turnover also rose from £28.5m to £29.4m over the same period.

It comes after the company – which was founded in Norfolk more than 200 years ago and includes Jarrold Business Training and St James Facility Management – recently revamped its women’s wear department at its city centre store.

“We are very pleased with the performance of the business this year, “ said Jarrolds group executive chairman, David Hill. “We’ve continued to develop the shopping experience in our Norwich Department Store and we now have market leading health and beauty departments, an exciting fashion and accessory range and an outstanding choice of refurbished restaurants.

“Through ongoing investment in the business we have become one of the leading independent department stores in the country, and will continue to develop our offer to ensure customers have a truly unique shopping experience.”

Meanwhile, shop vacancy rates in Norwich fell from 11.3pc in 2014 to 11.1pc this year, the Norwich City Council’s retail monitor has found.

Stefan Gurney, executive director of the Norwich BID, said, “This is great news for Norwich, especially with figures indicating that some of the secondary retail areas of the city are performing well and that the city has a healthy vacancy rate ahead of the national average.”

Adrian Fennell, retail and leisure specialist at Norwich-based Roche Chartered Surveyors, has witnessed a “pent up demand” from big name brands and internet retailers searching for space in Norwich.

“Norwich is doing well and retail availability is at an all time low,” he said. “Retailers are struggling to find representation in the city centre.

“There are a number of retailers which are interested in Norwich but cannot find the right location or size, so in that respect Norwich is in a much improved situation than it was a year ago, or three years ago.

“It is getting stronger every year and the retail centre is getting better because its dominance within the region is increasing and Norwich is recognised as a retail city.”

He added: “The market and the strength of the internet means that it will always remain a challenge for retailers, but the high street also provides an opportunity for internet retailers who have started out online and now want a bricks and mortar shop. We get retailers ringing us up which are internet based for two to three years and want to try it in a shop.

A spokesperson from Norwich City Council added: “The headlines from our retail monitor report will show once again that retailing in Norwich is thriving compared with many other places in the country. Details are still being analysed and the full results are due to be published next week.”

Elsewhere, Norfolk’s market towns have seen vacancy rates drop from 6.8pc in 2013, to 4.7pc this year, research by Norfolk County Council’s economic development team has found.

Swaffham has emerged as a stand out success story after it drove down the number of vacant shops from 16 in 2013 to just two this year.

But the drop in vacancy rates could be caused by the government’s decision to relax the planning rules and allow commercial properties to become residential.

The county council’s Market Towns report 2015 discovered that there are now 151 fewer shop units in Norfolk than there were two years ago, falling from 2,822 in 2013 to 2,731 this year.

David Dukes, economic development manager at Norfolk County Council, said: “What seems to be happening is the number of retail units in total across our market towns has diminished slightly. They are getting converted into houses.”

But across the region, business leaders reported a positive picture for market towns.

• KING’S LYNN: Abbie Panks, centre manager at the Vancouver Quarter Shopping Centre, said: “The vacancy rate checks are done twice yearly with the next due in January 2016, I can tell you that the last was 8.09pc (July) which was an improvement on Jan at 8.2pc. From a centre perspective, units are being taken on at a much faster rate than this time last year and the market certainly seems to be changing which is encouraging.”

• GREAT YARMOUTH: Jonathan Newman, Great Yarmouth Town Centre Manager, said the introduction of free car parking in Great Yarmouth had driven up footfall.

He added: “In total we saw a net increase of six new shops reducing the Great Yarmouth town centre’s vacancy rate to 14pc from 16pc, which is set to further improve with the opening of a raft of new shops in Market Gates shopping centre in the next few weeks to include Pandora, Select and Bellissimo.”

• BROADLAND: Stuart Clancy, portfolio holder for economic development at Broadland District Council, said: “Traders on our high streets in Broadland are working extremely hard and the picture across the district is positive, with only a small number of empty shops.”

• BECCLES: Hugh Taylor, mayor of Beccles, said there were just two vacant premises in the whole of the town centre – out of more than 100 – and there are plans to fill them shortly.

• DEREHAM: Roger Atterwill, chairman of Dereham Business Forum, said: “Dereham Town centre seems to be faring better now than earlier this year when the outlook seemed to be quite bleak in terms of empty shops. There are signs of improvement with the refurbishment of the old Chambers store, the opening of Chattels and the expansion of smaller independent retailers such as Abigails in Nelson Place.”

• SHERINGHAM: Andy Bullen, secretary of the chamber of trade, said: “We haven’t got many vacant shops, in fact several new ones have opened in the last 12 months, we only have about one or two vacant shops.”

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