In for a pound

RLRPTwo new tenants at Reading Link Retail Park will hardly have the masses rushing to get in their cars and head for the shops.

Iceland and Poundworld, getreading has reported, are signing up to move in. This seems an increasing trend where downmarket stores take up space on out-of-town retail parks.

But it’s a trend that, to some extent, defeats the object of out-of-town sites. The intention was to do your shopping without having to get stuck in town centre traffic and where bulky goods can be purchased much more conveniently.

But these shops can only work if there are other ‘destination’ stores on the same park. In this case Matalan is a treasured anchor. But if people are really prepared to get in their cars to search the shelves of Poundworld, there is a bigger shift in shopping patterns than people imagined.

The internet revolution means more and more shopping is now done from keyboard to warehouse and what it has done to these parks might become a cause for concern. An Aldi or a Lidl would surely be better.

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Lost for Wordplay

photo (15)The struggle for independent shops to stay afloat has now hit one of Caversham’s most admired. When Worldplay closes at the end of the month, it may just be the last of any independent in the area, other than a few newsagents, that have generic appeal.

Independents seem to have to specialise to offer more than the supermarkets and when the Caversham precinct is rebuilt, does anyone now envisage anything but big brands?

What would help would be a defined and enclosed area, solely for independent traders, along the lines of an indoor market.

It alone would attract customers and the chains could then pick up their share of the business.

But until rents start to become more realistic, there seems no possibility any such scheme being viable.

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Second Friday’s

tampopo-exteriorPopular as it was the Tampopo restaurant on The Oracle Riverside has given way to a second TGI Friday’s outlet in a move which is slightly out of step with the centre’s usual policy.

It’s rare for The Oracle to take on second restaurants for any brand already in town but TGI is one that looks like being popular.

However the question has to be why? TGI in its current location in Vastern Road seems popular enough at a site which is earmarked for redevelopment long term.

Yet this brand of loud music and birthday celebrations is far from everyone’s taste. The real value is in being a trusted brand. If that doesn’t get the punters in, nothing will.

Tampopo made little fuss, no real song and dance and had a fairly defined young-ish custom base. It’s brash replacement will surely have a bigger pull but doesn’t add much to the centre of town when the name is nothing new.

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Chinese puzzle

HIt seems no local media has had any feedback from Chinese firms in Reading about the stock market crash.

Even if they have approached any, it’s unlikely they would get a positive response. The ominous looming disaster is one of the most unknown quantities the local economy has had to face for decades.

Reading’s multitude of corporates includes huge numbers from overseas so the world economy is directly linked locally. Yet what is most alarming is that there seems to be no expert who can make a confident prediction.

Is an almighty crash coming or is this a blip? It shouldn’t be that difficult if these people really are experts.

But history indicates they know very little outside their own bubbles. During the last crisis I spoke to one business leader who said he couldn’t say when the 2007 crash would be over as we ‘never saw it coming’. Shouldn’t someone be on the lookout?

Yet going back to the start of the century, no end of speakers at conferences would tell you that we must be wary of the emerging markets of China, India and Brazil. Now we know that all that time China’s published figures were wholly unreliable. India and Brazil seem to be forgotten about.

And the biggest threat of all that just about everyone has their head in the sand about, is the £1.5 trillion debt the country is in.

We might not know if the crash is round the corner or years away. All we can be sure about is that there will be one.

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First Place

FP1The proposed deal for Scottish & Southern Energy to move into One Forbury Place is massive in more than one respect.

It’s the first major deal in 2015 in Reading town centre but it may also allow development of the SSE site in Vastern Road which will link the new Thames footbridge with the station underpass. Furthermore it means the second section of this huge development could be in the pipeline. One Reading Central has already been renamed Three Forbury Place so Two Forbury Place must surely be imminent.

So what effect will this have on the ever delayed Station Hill scheme? That is perhaps the harder question to answer. It could take away a possible tenant for Station Hill but it might also be a sign that the market is stirring.

Whichever is true, the move has to be a positive. If more lettings follow it could be huge.

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Unfit for King’s

photo (14)A Saturday afternoon and despite being next door to The Oracle, King’s Walk is deserted.

A mall with empty unit after empty unit sits side by side with one of the top shopping destinations in the south which boasts sky high footfall figures.

This seemingly absurd scenario just illustrates one of the painful truths of retailing, that location is everything. Various themes have been tried but the retailers just never came.

The Oracle has a number of plans to add units. If they would add some restaurants at this end, it might just create a possible new market in which King’s Walk could become an extension to the Oracle Riverside, increasing the range of restaurants. There must be restaurant operators who realise the value of the cluster effect and this could finally bring numbers to a mall that has failed for more than 30 years.

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Staples diet

photo (13)Ok it was a Friday afternoon but I would still have thought a trip to Staples in Forbury retail park would have resulted in my coming across one or two other customers.

But the truth was there were two others and I only saw one of them buy something. And the cost of the bulldog clips I had wanted was so high I gave purchasing a miss too.

It’s probably indicative of retailing everywhere that customers want to buy from their screens now and not from stores. This shop sells office stationery, technology and furniture, not something that is out of fashion or no longer needed. Yet staff outnumbered customers a good two hours before closing time.

This shop is at an edge of town centre retail park where a drive thru KFC is planned in the car park. It seems the future may be in buckets of fatty chicken but not in a retail outlet for smart office equipment. Maybe a gym could replace it one day. That might make a bit of a statement.

That is only a guess of course but you can’t help thinking it will certainly mean a very different town in a few years time.

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