Harris Aslam, managing director of Eros Retail has criticised councils for shunning them as potential operators on new developments, in favour of multiples.

The leading independent retailer told betterRetailing that Dundee City Council failed to adequately explain why one of his stores would not meet the requirements for a site on the new waterfront development. 

Aslam submitted an initial proposal for the unit in May 2017. 

“It was clear from the outset the council were holding out for a multiple operator and simply didn’t want an independent retailer to occupy the space,” he said. 

“Over the next two and a half years, we knew it was an uphill battle, but in line with our ethos, we tried various ways of showcasing the unique nature of independent retail – unfortunately, to no avail. 

“Rather than taking a definitive decision, there were repeated hurdles introduced, ranging from concerns over the quality of our fit-out to the longevity of our offering and our financial stability.”

Although he created 3D visuals of how the store would look, the council continued to express concerns. 

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“After illustrating various legal mechanisms that could give comfort to any landlord, the goalposts started changing,” said Aslam. 

“Although we don’t claim to be a bluechip company, we could prove to them we were a sound, robust, independent business, having just delivered our strongest financial year with a strong balance sheet and phenomenal support from stakeholders. 

“The real challenge is that, too often, public bodies are simply not entrepreneurial enough and, in this case, are now attempting to whitewash an estimated direct loss of well over £300,000, with an estimated loss to the economy of well over £1m with every unit in a £1bn development lying vacant.”

A total of 70 emails were logged during the process, during which councillors repeatedly failed to meet Aslam to discuss the process.

“It has been incredibly frustrating for us,” he said. “Unfortunately, as an independent, we are up against a perception that we are just another corner shop. 

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“We have been on a mission from our inception to change this perception and showcase the many examples of independent retailers becoming the centre-piece of a development.”

Aslam stressed how important it is for independents to continue showcasing their offer. 

“I do not understand why an independent has more hurdles in place than perhaps a multiple,” he said. 

“But from a property perspective, I would encourage developers to look at the proposal and speak to the retailers because that’s where the innovation happens.”

Property specialist Christie & Co’s head of retail, Steve Rodell, urged independents to use their ability of being “flexible” when pitching for sites. 

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He told betterRetailing: “If there is a slightly unusual space, it presents a massive opportunity to retailers because they can work around it, unlike a Co-op, for example. 

“Retailers can also wheel their suppliers or wholesale partners in as leverage.”

When betterRetailing asked Nisa whether it had acted as leverage to help retailers secure new sites, a spokesperson responded: “Our partnership with Christie & Co provides us with daily development updates and details of new properties available to Nisa retailers. We share these through our OCS – the partner-facing website – and field team communications.” 

Asked the same questions by betterRetailing, a Booker spokesperson said: “This is not something we’ve noticed or done before.”

In response to Aslam’s claims, a spokesperson for Dundee City Council said: “Council officers and our agents, Rydens, are continuing discussions with parties interested in becoming potential occupants of the units at the railway station.”

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