Mountain Warehouse CEO outlines plans for relocated Carlisle store as sales soar across the chain
The boss of Mountain Warehouse has told Soult’s Retail View that the chain plans to open a new, bigger store in Carlisle – despite its current store in Scotch Street being in the midst of a closing-down sale.
Since I blogged about the outdoor retailer’s Cirencester store (located in part of the town’s former Woolworths) last April, Mountain Warehouse has continued to thrive amid the challenging economic conditions. Though the stellar rate of new UK store openings has slowed a little in the last year, the business has mopped up trade in places where Blacks and Millets have exited, with new owner JD Sports having closed about 100 stores to date – or a third of the estate – since it acquired Blacks out of administration in January last year.
Another outdoor rival, the 70-store Yeomans chain, also had the disruption of a pre-pack administration to deal with in 2012, though its total store count has only shrunk slightly from the pre-administration figure, with stores such as Morpeth and Dumfries (below) among those being shed.
Against this backdrop, total sales at Mountain Warehouse grew 19% to £75.1m during 2012, while the important pre-Christmas period (covering the 12 weeks to 30 December) saw an impressive like-for-like sales increase of 15%. It’s proved a profitable formula, too, with the business recording an increase in operating profit every year between 2006 and 2011.
So, with Mountain Warehouse performing so strongly overall, I was curious to understand the reasoning behind the closure of the four-year-old Carlisle store – which I noticed on my visit to the city a couple of days ago – and asked the chain’s founder and CEO, Mark Neale, to tell me more.
“We have a break coming up in the lease in Carlisle,” he explained, “and we decided to close because the store is a bit too small [at 1,542 sq ft], a bit too off pitch and a bit too expensive for what it is [currently being marketed at a rent of £65,000 pa].
“Basically we think we can find something better in Carlisle. If the shop was twice as big then we would live with the pitch. Or if it was 100% prime we would live with the size. Or if it was really cheap we would live with both. But it’s basically compromised in all three dimensions so we will close and hopefully line up a relocation.”
So does the newer 6,093 sq ft Mountain Warehouse in nearby Penrith, opened next to the town’s new edge-of-centre Booths supermarket in Brunswick Road in December 2011, give more of a flavour of where Mountain Warehouse is heading in terms of future store sizes and locations? Mark Neale suggested that it does.
“As regards Penrith, we are doing a lot more edge-of-town or out-of-town sites and this store is doing really well for us.
“There’s good overlap with the Booths customer and it’s pretty visible from the road, plus the rent is sensible and the store a good size. We are hoping to do a similar one with Booths in Ulverston, for example.”
And what about the North East, where Mountain Warehouse currently has a presence in smaller centres such as Hexham (above), Morpeth and Durham, alongside its Royal Quays and Dalton Park outlet stores? Could the recent closure of a raft of outdoor retailers in Newcastle city centre – including Tiso, Blacks, Trespass, Adventure at Freemans and, soon, Nevisport – provide an opening for a more value-focused operator to compete against the higher-end Cotswold Outdoor and LD Mountain Centre?
“We will check out Newcastle, but in general we find the big cities too expensive and too fashion-focused. We are currently focusing on market towns and county towns where the rents tend to be more affordable.”
So, in summary, while Newcastle might not be high on Mountain Warehouse’s priority list, it seems that Carlisle could look forward to some good news in the future – even if Mountain Warehouse’s departure from its current premises will mean yet another empty shop along the city’s main thoroughfare in the short term.
It’s a reminder, however, of how, in the current climate, those retailers who are expanding and doing well are well placed to shop around for the right premises and rental deals – and to take quick and decisive action where existing stores aren’t making sense in terms of location, space or cost.
My retail consultancy business, CannyInsights.com, provides bespoke place- and sector-specific market insight, including coverage of Cumbria, the North East and the outdoor leisure sector. It also works with retailers nationwide to improve their stores, customer communications and online marketing. For more information, visit www.cannyinsights.com, drop me an email, or give me a call on (0191) 461 0361.