Posted: 17/04/2019

Independents must cash in on Waitrose branch closures, say analysts

Waitrose announced the closure of five stores at a time when many chains are reviewing their estates

Independent retailers should be ready to capitalise on Waitrose branch closures, according to analysts, as the chain continues to be squeezed by specialists and discounters.

Parent company John Lewis announced the closure of five “underperforming” Waitrose stores last month and some in the industry feel this will not be an isolated incident.

 “There is no question that the supermarkets are looking at their business on a site by site basis,” said Catherine Shuttleworth, chief executive of retail and shopper marketing agency Savvy.

“We have already seen a switch to a mixed range of retailers, including independents, pinching sales from Waitrose at the top end and value retailers at the bottom.”

She added that the locations earmarked for closure were not typical Waitrose stores and some were former Co-op branches. “It may be that the brand has not got the greatest salience locally.”

Contracts have been exchanged for the sale of Waitrose sites in Barry, Teignmouth, Torquay, Ashbourne and Blaby. New owners had not been disclosed when FFD went to press.

Danielle Pinnington, consultant partner at insight consultancy Shoppercentric, said the closures would be good news for specialist retailers in the local areas, as long as they made their presence known among their catchment market.

“All too often local retailers are an area’s best kept secret and they need to work at changing that.

 “Engage with the local community to drive footfall, deliver excellent product ranges and service to drive repeat visits and look at utilising online as a way to broaden their reach beyond the local catchment.”

David Riley, who owns Bramhall’s Deli & Café in Ashbourne, was surprised his local Waitrose was closing. 

“There’s a lot of moneyed people around here,” he said. “There is an opportunity there with the deli side of our business to plug a gap for those Waitrose customers.

“We do a good range of local products and Italian products you can’t get in Waitrose and M&S and we get returning customers coming in specifically for them.”

Nathan Keeble, owner of Food for Thought deli in Barry, called the local Waitrose closure “a double-edge sword” because the store attracted people to the high street.

“About 2,500 houses are being built in the local area so I’m shocked they are leaving.

“We’ve a meeting in two weeks with all the high street traders about how to collectively promote ourselves.”

This story appeared in the April issue of Fine Food Digest. You can read more on the digital edition here.

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