Primark’s founder Arthur Ryan died at the age of 83 this month, but his stores will long outlive him. This is in stark contrast to its slightly more upmarket high street competitors like Topshop, part of Philip Green’s troubled Arcadia empire.
Britain’s traditional retailers have been under pressure for many years now. The rise of online shopping, with its convenience of buying at a click, is often said to be the main driver behind the high street’s woes.
Yet Primark, which doesn’t offer online shopping, is thriving. The retailer’s sales saw a 4 per cent increase in the 40 weeks up to 22 June, while its enormous Birmingham store, costing £70 million, opened in April.
Indeed, Primark has even turned its cheaper clothing into a desirable brand encapsulated by the hoards of people tweeting #Primani. It may be more expensive to dry-clean than to buy, as one customer tweeted, but it’s still runway-style fashion to be flaunted.
But the fact is that today’s consumer visiting the high street demands a whole physical experience that online just doesn’t offer. Primark is certainly tapping into this desire.
Between the Disney café for children inside the Birmingham store and the One with the Friends’ theme in the Manchester chain, millennial nostalgia must be having a field day. Primark’s Birmingham store even offer its visitors a nail bar, hair and beauty salon, and a barbers.
Sadly, Primark is proving so far an anomaly. Over 2018, the UK saw a net loss of 2,481 stores. That’s an awful lot of empty space to be taking advantage of in creative and inspired ways.
Mixed-use developments combining residential with retail and office space are a sensible way to do this. As well as the greater footfall for retailers through having residents and office workers right on the doorstep, a variety of asset classes means developments are more attractive for investors as they are not exposed to a weakened traditional retail sector.
Placemaking also has a vital role to play. We should be redesigning our high streets to create community and cultural hubs to draw in the crowds. For example, turning streets into pedestrian areas with market squares fosters sociability and community, bringing life back to areas that looked likely to be on the decline,
Expanding this approach across our cities and high streets could revitalise our cities to become prime destinations for tourists and locals seeking a fun day out. They might even do a little bit of shopping in between.
Feature image credit: Alex McGregor