The man who helped transform Birmingham’s reputation as a high-end shopping destination has hit back at claims the city has become a retail ‘struggler’.
Alan Chatham, who introduced shops such as Harvey Nichols and Armani to Birmingham when he launched the Mailbox nearly a decade ago, said the fact that Birmingham had slipped behind Glasgow in terms of retail spend did not reflect the upbeat mood of the city’s retailers.
Mr Chatham, whose business empire has been under significant pressure in recent months after his Cube scheme was taken into administration by the banks, said the annual ranking report by CACI (formerly Consolidated Analysis Centers, Inc) which described Birmingham as a ‘shopping struggler’ ignored significant indicators that suggested Birmingham was in rude health compared to many of its competitors.
“The ranking belies the strong 2009 that many of Birmingham’s retailers have enjoyed,” said Mr Chatham. “CACI’s report highlights the total retail expenditure in Birmingham, which has increased from £2.09 billion in 2008-09 to £2.43 billion over the past 12 months, despite the challenging economic environment.
“In 2009, Bullring reported growth of four per cent year on year and continues to attract world-class brands across both retail and leisure, with a number of high-profile store openings to be announced in the coming months, including the addition of Thomas Sabo, which is due to open a store on the Lower East Mall.
“The health of a city centre can also be assessed by its attractiveness to both big-name brands and independents, and Birmingham has welcomed a number of new retailers including COS and independent stores Aspecto at Pavilions and Sonique at Bullring.
“Birmingham’s vacancy rates remain low and have bucked the national trend at 10.5 per cent compared to 11.4 per cent in Glasgow, 14.4 per cent in Bristol and 16 per cent in Manchester according to the Local Data Company.”
The report by CACI, which saw Birmingham fall to third place as a shopping destination behind London’s West End and Glasgow, said its new methodology that included the geography of retail centres and its travel catchments found that Glasgow, Liverpool and Newcastle had underlying strengths while Leeds and Birmingham faced tougher times.
Paul Langston, associate partner in location strategy at CACI, who led the study, said: “Glasgow is proving a strong retail centre and resilient in the recession.
"There have been no fundamental changes in the Glasgow market in the past 12 months but nonetheless it has much better vacancy rates than Birmingham, which is now a ‘shopping struggler’. The only reasons the two cities are so close in expenditure terms is Birmingham’s larger population density and weaker surrounding retail centres.”
Despite disagreeing with the CACI findings, Mr Chatham said there was still much work to be done to improve Birmingham’s shopping experience and highlighted a new initiative to be launched later this year which should go some way towards taking Birmingham back up the rankings.
He said: “A recent economic study of the Retail BID area carried out by The Retail Group gave Birmingham a good bill of health, so what can we do to improve our ranking in the future and take Birmingham to the number one spot?
“We need to ensure that Birmingham offers today’s shopper something new and exciting. With Retail Birmingham’s support for independent retailers, our development of a design strategy to dramatically improve the quality of Birmingham’s shopping streets and our involvement in the city’s Transport Vision work; we are working to ensure that Birmingham becomes the location of choice for visitors looking for a fully rounded retail and leisure experience.”