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Reign of independence continues in UK retail

3-minute read

Simply Business

Simply Business

12 February 2015

Hard times for chains as indies rise year on year

  • Shoppers turn their backs on chains with 110% increase in independent stores in past 5 years
  • Coffee shops were the most popular independent startup while furniture shops suffered most in 2014
  • North west emerges as most independent retail region in the UK

12 February 2015: Simply Business’ annual High Street Tracker has identified a consistent rise in local, small businesses with the most entrepreneurial presence found in the north west’s high streets*.

As Britons turn their backs on chains and multi-national corporations, the number of independent retailers across the UK has soared year on year, rising by 110% in the last five years. The biggest surge was seen in 2012 (46 per cent), following ‘The Portas Review: independent review into the future of our high streets’ published by the Department of Communities and Local Government and BIS**.

In 2014, coffee shops emerged as the most popular independent store to open, with more cafes established than any other retailer and rising by 31 per cent over twelve months. When coupled with independent food stores – the most popular in 2013 – the number of these shops has risen by 100 per cent between 2010 and 2014. This ongoing increase in independent food retailers is aligned to the public’s growing disinterest in chain stores, contributing to last year’s poor financial results from the UK’s leading supermarkets. The steep upturn also typifies the changing role of the high street, as consumers increasingly buy their essentials online and go shopping as a more social, ‘on spec’ activity.

Simply Business found that independent furniture shops were not faring as well in the high street’s evolution, falling by 83 per cent last year. As independent furniture shops struggle with fierce competition, it appears that many of them are adapting, and tapping into the nation’s fondness of upcycling. As consumers now tend to update and revive their existing possessions rather than buy new, last year Simply Business saw an increase in furniture restoration (17 per cent) and craft shops (51 per cent). Much like furniture shops however, locksmiths (78 per cent decrease) and launderettes (59 per cent) were also struggling to prosper.

The leading business insurance provider analysed over 69,085 independent retail outlets across the UK to find the largest population is now in the north west, with an 89 per cent rise over the past five years.

Jason Stockwood, CEO of Simply Business, said, “Our latest high street tracker proves the north has the same strong entrepreneurial spirit as the south and you don’t have to be in London to start or run a successful independent business.

“As shopping has become more of a social experience, the high street has adapted over the years to meet changing consumer needs, offering a number of new opportunities for microbusiness owners to make the most of. I am however disheartened to see the fall in certain sectors which reaffirms our campaign to create more support for our nation’s microbusinesses and sole traders who form a vital part of our society and economy.”

In November 2014, Simply Business published the ‘Simply Britain: Backing Business’ report at City Hall based on research conducted on 2,000 microbusinesses and sole traders across the UK. It found that this integral business community felt unrecognised and unsupported by the government and Simply Business made the following five recommendations ahead of the ever-nearing General Election:

  1. The establishment of a Minister for Microbusiness
  2. A reduction in the small profits rate of Corporation Tax
  3. A further increase in the rate of Mileage Tax Relief
  4. The extension and enhancement of the government-backed Growth Voucher programme
  5. Further funding for and clearer sign-posting of a local authority business support

Notes to Editors:

*Figures are based on analysis of insurance policy data from independent retail outlets insured by Simply Business between 2010 and 2014. This includes 69,085 businesses in 2014.


Regional breakdown

RegionNumber of new independent retailers in 2014
1. North West10,917
2. Greater London10,057
3. South East9,854
4. East Midlands9,280
5. West Midlands6,528
6. North east6,259
7. South west6,222
8. Scotland5,103
9. Wales3,745
10. Northern Ireland1,303

Top 10 independent retailers in 2014

1. Café / coffee shop5,870
2. Take away5,331
3. Pub / bar3,857
4. Restaurant3,508
5. Hairdressing2,991
6. Sandwich bar2,556
7. Bakery2,439
8. Beauty salon2,401
9. Off-licence2,186
10. Clothes shop1,945

Case studies and interviews with Jason Stockwood, CEO, are available upon request

For further information, please contact:

Nithiya Gnanathas / Arthur Trousdell

020 7199 6196 / 020 7199 2203

[email protected]

About Simply Business

Simply Business is one of the UK’s biggest business insurance providers, specialising in public liability insurance for SMEs and insuring over 600,000 small businesses and landlords across Britain.

Launched in 2005, Simply Business provides an online brokerage service, delivering policies tailored to individual business requirements. Using the power of tech and data to create the best possible customer experiences, Simply Business employs over 600 people across offices in London, Northampton, and Boston in the US.

Owing to its internal underwriting capability, Simply Business can cover over 1,000 trade types – ranging from plumbers to accountants to dog walkers. An accredited B Corp for their positive social impact, Simply Business has also been voted the Sunday Times Best Company To Work For twice in a row.

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