john, lewis, brent cross, shopping centre, independent, retail, marketAt the weekend, the Brent Cross shopping centre in north London, by the M1 and the north circular road, was closed due to snow losing half a day’s trading. Anecdotal reports say it bounced back the next day, with so many people shopping that the centre manager thought it was the first day of the sales.

Over the previous week a number of deals were done in larger retail properties and the FT took the opportunity to point out the leading retailers were in the market for new space, showing their confidence in the size of the UK shoppers’ purse moving forward.

The newspaper quoted DTZ, a property agency, that said only 100 of the 840 shopping centres in the UK would be regarded as prime. Big anchor tenants such as John Lewis are not interested in older, poorer-quality centres or in secondary towns. Obviously, regional shopping centres aim to attract customers from a wide area, perhaps an hour’s drive or more from the centre. For a shopper to make the trip, the centre needs to provide easy access and a high specification of built environment that people will want to dwell in.

These same rules apply in local shopping but scaled down. Most shoppers will live locally and you will be competing with their other shopping options, including multiple grocers and the internet. In order to be a destination for your customers you need to ensure that your shop is better than your competitors’.

Many local shopkeepers will be operating in what developers would see as poor locations. But that does not mean that you cannot be successful. Your aim must be to be better than competitors that are easy to compare, which is why Tesco Express is such a useful benchmark. While shoppers will likely be on a different mission when they visit your shop (remember many Tesco shoppers go local to buy trusted chilled food instead of driving to a superstore) you need to be competitive in terms of that mission, be it to buy cigarettes, snacks, alcohol or a newspaper.

If DTZ is correct and only 12 per cent of shopping centres will attract the big names in retailing, that also means that 88 per cent are surviving by meeting other shopping needs. Those needs may not be as glamorous or generate as much revenue but properly managed they can be profitable.

Keeping the shop friendly and tidy, and having at least three good promotions are a minimum requirement. How can you do better?