Alworths lined up for non-Woolies site in Alloa?
Just a week after its first two Scottish stores opened in Forfar and Cupar, the variety store chain Alworths is now “recruiting for enthusiastic, customer focussed individuals to work at its newest store opening in Alloa in July 2010.”
Alloa, in Clackmannanshire, is exactly the type of location that we are getting used to Alworths opening stores in – a small town of less than 20,000 people, with a pleasing, compact centre. However, given that Alloa’s former Woolworths was snapped up by Poundland over a year ago, it appears that Alloa’s new Alworths – the retailer’s tenth shop in all – will be the first to open in premises that were not previously a Woolworths store. [UPDATE, 28 June 2010: I now understand that Alworths will be taking over Alloa's former Ethel Austin site.]
This move is both significant and inevitable. The dwindling pool of vacant Woolies stores in half-decent and suitable locations has always meant that Alworths would, before long, need to cast its property net wider if it is to grow. More importantly, perhaps, doing so is also likely to benefit the brand, by helping Alworths to build a distinctive and modern identity that isn’t just based on bringing former Woolworths sites back to life.
The lack of appropriate former Woolworths sites may well be one reason for Alworths not yet making it to the North East, and I understand that there are no imminent plans for the retailer to open stores in this region. However, I’m told that the chain is continuing to scout for suitable locations across the country, and that there would be no bar to opening North East shops if the right premises in the right locations could be found.
Meanwhile, another recently launched retail chain – the supermarket Haldanes – appears to be having some difficulties in finding, and sustaining, the right store locations.
Launched at almost exactly the same time as Alworths, Haldanes’ first store opened in Prestonpans, in East Lothian, back in November. Since then, the business has been busy snapping up stores that the Competition Commission had required the Co-operative Group to divest following its acquisition of Somerfield, with its estate peaking at 25 shops. However, sites in Dunbar and Hemsworth have closed this month after less than three months of trading, while the company’s Chairman, Arthur Harris, has “confirmed there is a consultation process ongoing with staff and unions about redundancies across the chain”.
The reasons for Haldanes’ “drop in returns” are unclear, and could be a combination of factors, such as location, range, price, or an unfamiliar brand. It’s interesting, however, that even the Co-op has reportedly seen a “plunge” in sales in the Somerfield stores that it has retained and converted to its own fascia, while independent retailers who bought stores are apparently projecting sales declines of up to a quarter.
Whatever the reasons are, blaming the presence of an existing out-of-town Tesco store for the challenging trading at Wick’s Haldanes doesn’t really wash. It’s true that Tesco’s unceasing expansion provokes strong reactions from many – most recently the ‘Queen of Shops’ Mary Portas – and that its arrival can impact negatively on existing centres.
However, if a supermarket, like Haldanes, chooses to open a store in a location where Tesco is already established – in Wick’s case since November 2006 – the onus must surely be on that incoming retailer to do its homework beforehand, and to develop a way of trading better and cleverer than its competitors.
Sometimes, I feel, it’s just too easy for retailers to blame Tesco for their difficulties instead of reflecting on what they can do to improve and differentiate their own performance.