Trade in metropolitan and suburban stores is “remarkably different” says Theo Paphitis, owner of housewares stockist Robert Dyas (as well as Rymans and Boux Avenue). Theo was interviewed on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme after the ONS issued the latest figures for sales across all retail sectors (September 18).
According to the ONS, retail sales volumes increased by 0.8% when compared with July, representing the fourth consecutive month of growth. Household good stores were the ‘star’ performers reflecting continued spending on home improvements: sales volumes in August increased by 9.9% when compared with February. Online sales across retail fell by 2.5% in August when compared with July, but the strong growth experienced over the pandemic has meant that sales were still 46.8% higher than February’s pre-pandemic level.
Theo said the overall figures were “pretty reflective” to his stores, and that he was still seeing growth in online sales. He observed that the longer the duration of the pandemic, the more “entrenched” consumers become in new habits of buying online.
The entrepreneur pointed out that growing online sales do not offset the “fixed costs” (rents and rates) of physical stores. Speculating about retail in general, Theo predicts that there will be “a swathe of boarded up shops” if business rents re-start in April 2021 (after the current business rates holiday).
Talking about the differences in sales in his own retail chains (including Robert Dyas), Theo observed that his suburban stores are “not far off last year’s figures” compared to much lower sales figures in metropolitan locations. For example, his London stores are “50% down.” Moreover, he does not expect stores in metropolitan areas to recover: “The genie is out of the bottle… People will spend less time in offices.”
When questioned, Theo did not rule out the possibility of trading exclusively online in the future if driven by consumer demand, but enthused that shopkeepers “enjoy having shops.”
“Another lockdown would be catastrophic,” Theo reflected on retailing in general, while emphasising: “There is a recovery going on.”
Top: Robert Dyas Baker Street, London.