The British high street isn't a happy place. Rising input costs and taxes combined with falling wages and consumer spending makes for a particularly unpleasant cocktail. And while it's a cocktail that retail CFOs have been supping for some time, there's no doubt that the sector is in chronic need of a pick me up.
The litany of organisations - many household names - that have gone to the wall this year illustrate the problem well - Oddbins, Habitat, Focus DIY, Jane Norman, Dolphin, Moben, Lombok ï¿½ retailers that have, for one reason or another, failed to make ends meet.
Others have fared little better. Carpetright, HMV, Thorntons, JJB Sports, Dixons Retail, Blacks, among others, have been forced into various emergency measures, from store closures and redundancies to profit warnings and restructuring.
It is, to put it mildly, a pretty bleak outlook.
The trouble facing the sector is borne out in data from the Office for National Statistics, the latest of which show that there was no growth in the volume of sales between August 2010 and August 2011. While the value of sales increased by 4.7 percent, much of this can be attributed to the increase in VAT with the remainder to rising input costs.
But the retail space is also diverse. For some, such as discount stores and value supermarkets, difficult economic times can provide a boost; for others, such as home furnishings, the exact opposite is true.
Data published by the British Retail Consortium (BRC), and analysed by KPMG, illustrates this point, with a clear divide between food and non-food retail.
On the release of the data in early September, Stephen Robertson, director general of the BRC notes: "It remains a tale of two halves. The food sector has proved more resilient, but non-food retail showed a marked decrease in sales year-on-year."
So, the moral of the story seems to be this ï¿½ if you must be in retail, be in the right type of retail.
Here, Andy Hall can at least breathe easily. As finance director of booming national bike retailer, Evans Cycles, Hall is in the right place at the right time, having joined the organisation in 2010. But, regardless of how resilient the cycle industry is to the downturn and however much it continues to capture the public's imagination, he remains cautious.
"I don't think we're much different from the rest of the retail high street," Hall says. "The consumer's obviously finding [less] money in their pocket, their take-home pay has gone down and they're probably a little bit worried about all the doom and gloom in the world. So, whenever they have the chance to think about whether they should spend money, they tend to reconsider."
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