The Original Factory Shop in Morpeth – a shift towards more upmarket locations?
The rapidly expanding mini-department store retailer, The Original Factory Shop, opened its seventh North East store, in Morpeth, last week. It adds to the retailer’s existing stores within the region at Stanley, Prudhoe, Ashington, Crook, Spennymoor and Shildon.
However, while Woolies sites are one option, the retailer has a record of being creative in its choice of new store locations. As I blogged last week, Colwyn Bay is set to get an Original Factory Shop in a former pub (with an opening date of 31 August now announced), while the established store in Prudhoe – predating Woolies’ collapse – occupies a former Kwik Save site.
Meanwhile, the Morpeth location is, as I guessed it would be, the former M&S Simply Food site in the town’s Market Place. I should flag up that Morpeth was not one of the 25 Simply Food stores that was closed down last year due to “underperformance”, such as the shop in Whitley Bay.
Instead, the Morpeth site became vacant in November 2009 when M&S moved into a full-size store – with both food and fashions – within the new Sanderson Arcade shopping centre. Marks & Spencer had only occupied the Market Place site since 2006, having acquired it (and 27 other locations) from the supermarket Iceland at the point where Simply Food was expanding aggressively, and Iceland was emerging, under new ownership, from a torrid and lossmaking 2004-05.
In the cyclical way of retail, Iceland returned to Morpeth in 2009 (in the former Woolies store opposite its original location), made a £110m pre-tax profit in the most recent financial year, and has regrown store numbers to 782 – their highest figure to date. Thus, there’s an element of going back to the future in Morpeth once again having a general retailer and Iceland facing each other across Bridge Street.
Summing up from a retail analysis point of view, the opening of The Original Factory Shop in Morpeth is notable on two fronts. First, for Morpeth, it’s great news in bringing a prime site back into use after a fairly short period of vacancy. With Sanderson Arcade having attracted some very strong names to Morpeth for the first time (including Fat Face, Laura Ashley, Paperchase, Crew Clothing and Waterstone’s), and with few voids elsewhere in the town centre, Morpeth seems to be riding the downturn well.
Second, for The Original Factory Shop, it’s interesting that Morpeth represents a location that is both more upmarket and more competitive than the “forgotten high streets” that it has traditionally targeted. It will be interesting to see whether this apparent shift in ambitions signals a push by The Original Factory Shop into other North East market towns, such as Hexham and Alnwick.
Alternatively, if the retailer’s expansion is focused on its more traditional type of location, there are still plenty of opportunities. After all, just in this region there are as yet no branches of The Original Factory Shop anywhere in Teesside, Wearside or Tyneside, meaning that places like Redcar, Seaham or Whitley Bay could yet be on the retailer’s radar.