Bill Grimsey is  the latest person to wade into the debate about the future of the high street – joining Mary Portas of course. His report highlights the potential solutions to addressing the demise of this once great shopping forum.

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High street woes

The only solution might be to convert the high street to an aeroplane runway because the retail domains attached to airports continue to be the bright shining stars of the industry.

Many retailers have their best performing stores within travel retail environments and not surprisingly their is a clamour to get into these locations.

Many years ago I interviewed Barry Gibson after he had moved from heading up Littlewoods stores to running the retail division of BAA – that operated the main UK airports.  I thought it was a backward step (clearly indicating why I’m not a retailer) but he viewed the space at airports as like giant department stores where the best global brands would want concessions.

He was certainly right and the retail space in UK airports has set the template for what has happened around the world. It has revolutionised how retail is undertaken in travel environments.

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Slick Dixons airport store

Today we have retailers trialling some of their most innovative stores within airports. Dixons’ launched its ‘store of the future’ at Gatwick Airport last month and WH Smith is testing various new formats in these travel locations. Harrods and F&M are also keen on using travel locations for their only UK sites beyond their flagship stores.

These merchants are more than willing to commit resources to their travel stores in contrast to many of their units on high streets around the country.

Unlike the high street, the airport locations have the advantage of a captive audience killing time, and who are in a [supposedly] relaxed frame of mind. They also have money in their pockets and are within sight of departure boards listing exotic locations rather than directions to the car park and the junction for the drive home.

If Bill Grimsey or Mary Portas or anybody else who cares to throw their tuppence worth into the conundrum that is high street retail could bottle some of the elements of airport and travel retail and transplant it into town centres then it would be a great start.

Let’s hope it doesn’t get to the stage where we are all clamouring to get on the next plane out of the country as the lights get firmly turned off on the glory days of UK high street retail.

Good luck Bill.