FURTHER evidence of the threat to retailers in Dorking from a proposed new Sainsbury's superstore in the town centre have emerged in a recent report by a leading retail analyst. Dorking currently has no large superstores in the town centre, and consequently still has an above average number of small independent retailers operating in the town.
Worryingly household names are now disappearing from our high streets in additional to independent operators, over 5000 of whom have gone out of business across the UK in the last 5 years alone. If the likes of Courts and Allders cannot survive, what chance is there for the many small shops in Dorking which contribute enormously to the local economy and provide a much larger number of the jobs than the supermarkets which are poised to replace them?
People usually imagine that food stores such as butchers and fruit & veg shops or stalls would be most threatened by a superstore in Dorking. However the supermarkets are increasingly selling products such as pharmaceuticals, contact lenses, books, CDs, DVDs, flowers, games and electrical goods - all of which are still represented in Dorking by small local retailers, many of them who have been here for generations.
The report by retail analyst Verdict warns that many high street firms are going to disappear because of the growth of the supermarkets in non-food items. This year a single supermarket, Tesco, is poised to overtake ARG - the owner of Argos and Homebase - by becoming the largest retailer of non-food items at £6 billion. Sainsbury's and Asda are not far behind.
"As grocers expand their non-food offers, the competition will feel pressure like never before" said Alastair Lockhart, of Verdict Research, the author of the report.
Tesco, Asda and Sainsbury's together outperformed the rest of the non-food market by almost doubling their combined share of the sector in the five years to 2005.
Consumer spending on non-food sales rose by less than one per cent in 2005 across the economy, yet shot up by more than eight per cent at both Tescos and Sainsbury's.
This month, Britain's third-largest specialist appliance seller Powerhouse became the latest retailer to go into administration, saying it was unable to compete with rising competition.
"Compounded by the effect of rising costs and more demanding customers, casualties from almost every corner of the market are inevitable, joining the likes of Allders, Courts and most recently PowerHouse," the Verdict report states.
Unsurprisingly Sainsbury's continue to target increased growth in this key area where they have a greater potential to increase profits in the UK than in their traditional grocery sector, which is largely conquered by the big stores.
The company state in their most recent annual report: "Sainsbury’s concentrates on products customers now reasonably expect to find in a supermarket. The focus has been to make space already dedicated to these products work harder. During the year, 41 pharmacies were opened bringing the total to 169. Core ranges such as cards, wrapping paper, music and DVDs have been revamped and big product launches have been well supported."
In Dorking the relentless march of the supermarkets is NOT a forgone conclusion. Mole Valley District Council have the chance to turn down planning permission for the store when it is submitted by the developer, probably in the not too distant future. Have you let your councillor know what your views are? Concerned local residents have joined to form a rapidly growing group called Dorking SOS who are opposed to the superstore, and are busy gathering information and getting their views across to our elected representatives. They can be found at www.dorkingsos.org.uk.