I’ve written about the sad slow demise of the high street before now and another big name tumbled recently with the collapse of Jamie’s Italian restaurant chain. I really liked it when it opened because I am a bit of a fan of Jamie Oliver’s recipes and of course anything that celebrates great simple Italian cooking is fine by me. That was when he had just one or two restaurants and the menu was delightfully different and the wines tasty and the prices about right. Then before you could say ‘turkey twizzlers’ he’d gone and opened restaurants all over the place. The exclusivity had gone. And I can remember telling Carol whilst sat in a Jamie’s Italian in the beautifully evocative Tuscan-like setting of Milton Keynes shopping centre that I thought the helpings were become less and less substantial whilst prices were becoming alarming high. Crucially in the rush to expand, the Italian-ness had just disappeared. And the place was half empty. That was at least 2-3 years ago and I forecast then that the chain wouldn’t survive and, no surprise, that was our last visit. Hey ho, I say this without any pleasure at all.
But it has seemd to me for some time that the retail/catering business models of recent times are just completely inappropriate in today’s market. The next big name I can see getting into major difficulties, and this might seem like high street heresy, is Marks & Spencers. We often visit their very big store on a retail park just off the M40 Banbury junction. I’m not kidding when I say that this barn of a place, even including the Food Hall, is often deserted. The clothing and homeware stock is dated and just not able to compete in value terms these days. And the food remains largely excellent of course but again so many places are now producing great foodstuff at similar quality but much less expensively. M&S wines are just prohibitively expensive I think and once upon a time the M&S sandwich was king; now it’s on a par with Prince Andrew – over-rated and increasingly bland/tasteless. How can they justify the huge expenditure on business rates etc if there’s nobody in-store buying stuff? And they are miles behind in terms of online retailing – that’s why they’ve recruited Ocado to do it for them – probably 4 years too late. I’m convinced that M&S’s retail presence in a few years time will be restricted to niche selling of foodstuffs and limited essential clothing items eg socks, underwear.
And here’s another prediction Sainsbury’s will sell out to a competitor in the next few years. Their stores are dreadfully outdated and they are being carved open by the likes of Aldi and Lidl. We went in the Bicester store only recently (only to use up our Nectar points as BP have dropped them); it is enormous and there were 10 people in there, including Carol and I. Hopeless. And another casualty…WHSmith, who will divest themselves of all their stores apart from the airport outlets.
You heard it here first.