High street survivors are primed for battle

Sonoo%20SinghAnd it carries on. A further pummeling of our collective wealth. This week the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) reports a “frightening deterioration” of the UK economy, with both the manufacturing and service sectors suffering the toughest conditions in at least 20 years. Add to this the figures from the British Retail Consortium, reporting the worst Christmas on record for British retailers. Even the giant that we call Tesco could not get us out of our mounting January blues. It reported its worst festive period sales since the Nineties.

But within the crisis we might just be beginning to see an emergent carpet bagging mentality that the nature of our current economic state demands. Following the collapse of Woolies, Adams and this week Land of Leather, the high street is already witnessing scenes of survivors taking up new business opportunities and clearing up behind these victims. Iceland has already announced that it will be buying 51 Woolies stores and Argos must be rubbing its hands in glee as it stands to pick up over£100m in DIY and homewear sales from the final demise of Woolworths. Some sources also suggest that Waitrose might be in that queue as well, for its convenience store format. Possibly a fine example of not only a carpetbagger seizing the economic opportunity but also setting out to modernise the ailing economy.

And as more and more competition from the high street disappears, analysts say that it will be the supermarkets that will ultimately benefit. And for those celebrating buoyant trading, including Morrisons and Sainsbury’s, there is some good news to be had. Their trading positions are underscored by the news that both retailers are to create new jobs. Morrisons has unveiled the creation of 5,000 jobs; and Sainsbury’s chief executive Justin King said last week that he would be adding up to 5,000 to its headcount in the coming year.

Meanwhile, it is not only the mayhem on the high street that has created opportunities for those fighting tooth and claw for survival. The financial collapse from last year, which started this downward spiral, has also opened up enormous opportunities for scavengers. Barclays was the first to swoop in and cherry pick the remains from the Lehman Brothers collapse. Just as the Spanish bank Santander was astute enough to pounce upon the ailing British lender Alliance & Leicester and the savings arm of Bradford & Bingley. And all surviving high street banks now seem to have jumped on the “trust” bandwagon to lure in savers, following the collapse of the Icelandic bank Icesave.

This battle for business is good news to the Government, which has very little to cheer about, and which is trying to put together a package of measures to prevent a deep recession turning into a slump.

Within this clamour for striking that right note in marketing campaigns to lure all those elusive consumers wanting to spend their fast-depreciating sterling, the battle for business is fast turning into a fight for survival. And it will be a fight to the finish.

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