Brexit's effect on commercial expansions

Michael Sears, of Sealeys Walker Jarvis in Gravesend, recalls a major ladies’ clothes retailer set for expansion into 52 more stores in the UK, this was before Brexit saw big brands massively scaling back expansion plans.

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Shopping centres do not normally fall under the radar of local commercial estate agents. For ever and a day, they have been the domain of the London agencies – those traditionally based in the nation’s capital together with the head offices of all the major retailing brands. The issue is, however, that the big brands have been massively scaling back expansion plans, and not since the pandemic, but since the Brexit vote.

Michael recalls a major ladies’ clothes retailer set for expansion into 52 more stores in the UK – one a week for the next twelve months with Gravesend number 26 on its target towns list. ‘We were getting them down to site the week after the Brexit vote. Unfortunately, the vote did not go the way they had anticipated and overnight they halved their expansion list and Gravesend lost out. Subsequently, that list was scaled back even further.’

Changing high streets

Since then, of course our high streets have changed. Whereas, large retail has scaled back, not least because of confidence in town centres. Big brands like Debenhams and BHS have been asset stripped and hung out to dry, and online retailing is taking up a huge slice of the pie.

But considering the high street and shopping centre locations have been a small growth section in leisure uses and local businesses expanding. Michael comments: ‘I sense a small shift in trend, some are fed up with what they perceive as the online purchase not turning out to be what consumers thought—returns can be time consuming. More and more I see the conversation turning to the reliability of the local retailer.’

Local commercial agents are sitting pretty

‘My firm has been appointed as joint agent in three shopping centre schemes. On the first, three other joint agents have come and gone but our firm—the local agent—has remained instructed. Why? Because we are the only one leasing premises. Since the appetite for retail has taken a shift towards local retailer, local commercial agents are sitting pretty.’

The ideal representation on shopping schemes is a hybrid of joint agents between a London-based firm and a local one. Its not just local businesses expanding. ‘As the local agent, we have also been introducing the remaining brand names into the schemes we are involved with, just as effectively as the London-based firms.’

Local commercial agents tend to get the presentation of units right—full floorplans, multiple photographs, walk-through videos. ‘My advice to any budding local commercial agent is beat the path to the local shopping centre Manager’s door, seek them out at local networking meetings’. What shopping centres represent to us are our ‘ideal customer’ on commercial—the one that will offer us multiple and ongoing listings. The value of this is immense.’

About Michael
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Michael Sears

Advisory Panel Member

Michael has been Managing Director of Sealeys Walker Jarvis in Gravesend since 1993, which is a multi-disciplined firm, dealing with residential and commercial sales, lettings and auctions. He also holds home inspector and domestic and commercial energy assessor status, together with his Propertymark Qualifications Award.