Reports of House of Fraser rebrand 'show Belfast's high street evolution'
Reports that House of Fraser in Belfast could be rebranded as a more luxurious, designer-led department store is a sign of the evolution of the high street here, said a retail expert.
Aodhan Connolly, director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, was talking to the Belfast Telegraph after reports revealed Sports Direct owner Mike Ashley, who paid £90m for the House of Fraser chain last August, has plans to divide the remainder 50 stores in the UK into two camps.
One of those divisions will be a "mini chain" of up to seven luxury designer stores called Frasers, to include Belfast. The others will remain House of Fraser.
The first stage of the rebrand will reportedly cost tens of millions of pounds and begin in Glasgow.
Mr Connolly said the brand would fit in with NI's "strong demographic of aspirational shoppers". He said: "What this move shows is that retailers are really having to reinvent themselves; sometimes because of cost pressures but also because you have to service what customers need."
In February this year House of Fraser secured a long-term lease with Belfast's Victoria Square landlord Commerze Real. As part of the new agreement it revealed plans to fully renovate the store with an investment upwards of £10m in "mid-2019". It said the project would encourage a "plethora of luxury and contemporary brands" into the store, "creating the next generation of elevated department stores".
Since the store's Belfast launch in 2008 the high street has witnessed the loss of brand names including Maplin, Toys R Us and BHS as well as the downsizing of many retail chains.
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Mr Connolly said this trend is more about survival of the fittest, adding: "A lot of people are talking about retail Armageddon but it's retail reinvention and what we can be clear on is the high street of the future is going to look very different. There will be less stores but better stores, less retail jobs but better retail jobs.
"High streets will become a mix of hospitality and residential with some retail and they will be footfall drivers in their own right, and the most successful retailers will be those who are able to adapt and have the ability to change."