BHS. Austin Reed. Woolworths. Phones4U.
Those are just some of the traditional, iconic brands which have disappeared from the British High Street, victims several years on to the recession.
Many questions have been asked about the fate of those and other companies – some companies seeing their former leadership questioned by MP’s. In all cases, administrators have been called in as the old names and brands are wound up. In most cases, uncertainties over pensions, and the issue of thousands suddenly losing their jobs, arise. As the failure and collapse is studied after the event, in some cases last minute rescue deals that never quite went through (such as happened during the collapse of BHS and Phones4U) emerge. Although the loss of each High Street brand is tragic for all concerned- as each name is lost, the British public becomes more accustomed to seeing yet another brand name vanish.
Success has been limited in saving those iconic names, as company after company enters receivership. Each loss, amongst other things, means lost jobs, and has a negative impact on the economy. It is therefore no wonder that some former CEO’s and investors are hauled before MP’s to explain why their company collapsed. One prime example here is billionaire businessman and investor Sir Philip Green, who recently appeared before MP’s over the collapse of BHS, which he used to own. His performance, according to most commentators was just that – a performance. Little of any use or value was discussed, raised, or answered – and lurid revelations including alleged death threats to senior executives, emerged.
On top of that, there is the inherent uncertainty of the EU Referendum. Whichever way the vote goes, the only certainty amidst all the unknown is that the UK economy will be affected negatively either way. This is not good news for a High Street already struggling to kick start economic growth.
However, the bizarre thing is that many indications show that the High Street is actually thriving. December 2015 and January 2016 was many companies (such as John Lewis) post record sales figures. Statistics of public spending and borrowing show that recent months have seen (in many cases) a dramatic rise is spending. Credit card borrowing has also seen in many instances a record increase, as people spend more or credit cards.
As such, it is quite clear that the High Street is seeing spending, and resultant growth. The services sector continues to be the great success story of the UK economy – and still visibly thriving on the average High Street.
Whilst the likes of Sir Philip Green and Mike Ashley are being hauled before MP’s – many shops and business leaders are seeing their companies trading nicely in towns and cities across the UK. Admittedly, the figures are not all wonderful and excellent. Marks & Spencer has consistently seen problems with its clothing departments, for example, and full growth has yet to be seen. Although encouraging, the figures and statistics do not at all show a High Street or economy that has recovered from the recession, or that will not be impacted by Brexit in the upcoming Referendum.
What is being seen is change. The older, well known nationwide brands are failing – whilst smaller, more dynamic brands are succeeding. As times are changing, so does society and its needs, and so does the economy. Newer business brands and models are succeeding, whilst older brands, stuck in the past, are not.
Instead of seeing the average High Street as a story of economic recovery, growth or failure – the recent developments are more indicative of a High Street under great change. As the needs of society change, and as the Internet revolutionises shopping and retail, and indeed retail companies themselves, the High Street is merely adapting to those changes.
Although the loss of such iconic British brands is always sad, and the resultant job losses of great concern, it is not the end of the High Street. The economic figures and statistics indicate that the High Street is not as troubled as some would say – but merely at a time of transition as it adapts to modern times and needs.