Hexham store closures create space opportunities for new retailers
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While Hexham’s soon-to-close Millets looks to have a new tenant waiting in the wings, a couple of other closures since my previous visit in June provide opportunities for further retailers looking to enter the town.
As I’ve noted several times before, retail units rarely become vacant in Hexham, and, when they do, they’re usually taken over fairly quickly. The downturn doesn’t seem to have slowed this trend, with Poundland and various interesting independents among the recent arrivals.
The closure of Hexham’s branch of Peters Bakery at 39a Fore Street, following the purchase of 22 other Peters stores by Cooplands, wasn’t a huge surprise given that it was located – like rather too many of Peters’ shops – directly next to Greggs. However, it’s one of the most prominent retail units to become vacant in Hexham for some time – close to Waterstones and M&Co, and opposite the main entrance to Beales (formerly Robbs) – so it’s hard to see it staying empty for long.
The fact that this particular stretch currently features a travel agent and estate agent alongside Greggs is arguably a waste of such a prime frontage on Hexham’s main pedestrianised street, and it would certainly make a good spot for a boutiquey fashion retailer that wants to tap into Beales’ footfall.
Around the corner from Beales, the other prominent unit that’s become vacant is the Robinson & Cowell electrical goods store at 42-44 Priestpopple, which closed a couple of weeks ago. This is a rather sad loss, given that the family-owned business had traded in Hexham for half a century, and from that particular site since 1968.
However, shops that are located slightly away from the retail centre, as this one was, do need to generate buzz and publicity in lieu of passing trade if they’re not to become reliant on an ever-dwindling number of loyal customers. These days, if an independent business has no web or social media presence – as appeared to be the case here – it’s always going to be difficult to alert new customers to what you offer, however fantastic the product range or customer service. Though it may be hard, all retailers – including independents – do need to move with the times.
After my previous visit to the town, I celebrated what I described as “Hexham’s new breed of web-savvy independents”, where two new arrivals – wool shop Woolaballoo in Market Street, and the Deli at Number 4 in Beaumont Street – are doing a good job promoting their physical shops using their websites, blogs, Facebook and Twitter. If even a fraction of the 933 people who ‘like’ Woolaballoo’s Facebook page are encouraged to visit the shop – or share its news updates with their friends – it can be an incredibly powerful driver of awareness, footfall and sales.
The location might be a challenge, but with the right enterprising spirit and marketing zeal, there’s no reason why the ex-Robinson & Cowell unit can’t become a similar independent retail success story.
My retail consultancy business, CannyInsights.com, provides bespoke place- and sector-specific market intelligence, including coverage of Northumberland and the rest of the UK. It also works with independent retailers to improve their stores, their market knowledge, and their online marketing via Twitter, Facebook, blogs and websites. For more information, visit www.cannyinsights.com, drop me an email, or give me a call on (0191) 461 0361.