Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland independent retail sector confident over future despite testing times

Lisburn Road traders Mark Brown of the Arcadia deli
Lisburn Road traders Mark Brown of the Arcadia deli
Roger Warnock and David Reid (left) of The Thinking Cup coffee shop
Margaret Canning

By Margaret Canning

Northern Ireland is maintaining a tradition of independent retail that may be in decline in Great Britain, it has been claimed.

Research from the Local Data Company and the British Independent Retailers Association said the number of new independent stores in England, Scotland and Wales had fallen from 11 a day in 2010 to one a week in 2015.

The study found that the growth of out-of-town shopping centres meant that independent shops only increased by 0.11% - or 117 shops - in 2015, compared to 4% or 3,949 shops in 2010. Independent retailers represented 65% of all retail in Great Britain.

Glyn Roberts, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association said he believed the sector had a bright future in the province.

"I think the dynamic is different in Northern Ireland and we have a higher proportion of independent retailers than in the rest of the UK," he added.

"While we have seen closures of independent retailers, it would not be quite as stark as the report makes out. What we need to focus on is how to get the next generation of independent retailers up and running - for example, Ballymena has incubator units for new independent retailers."

Mr Roberts said independent retailers here were concerned about the growth in operating costs such as business rates.

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The gradual phasing in of auto-enrolment was also creating concerns, along with the introduction of the new national living wage of £7.20 per hour.

Mark Brown, the owner of the Arcadia Delicatessen on Belfast's Lisburn Road, said his store was constantly innovating to keep its customers.

The Lisburn Road in the south of the city has been known for its mix of independent retailers and coffee shops.

Arcadia started out as a bakery and has been in the Brown family since 1946.

Mark's father's involvement with the business coincided with the explosion of foreign travel, when he began to sell foods such as salamis and cheeses to attract well-travelled customers.

Mr Brown said: "We are always looking for new stuff and it does get tough. We are always have to work hard to find out what the new trends are and how to move with the times.

"We have gone online, too, and it hasn't been what we thought it would be, though we are working on it. We are always picking up new products that people haven't seen before.

"And if a small, local supplier gets listed in Tesco, we will move on to something else unless their stuff is doing particularly well for us."

The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics showed retail sales fared better than expected in February.

Belfast Telegraph