Unlocking the value in retail space

Cheltenham, United Kingdom - June 25, 2013: Pedestrians shopping on a busy city street in Cheltenham, England. Photograph shot with a Wide angle lens.
While the pandemic is far from over, it’s already clear that its impact when it comes to the use of existing office and shop space is going to be far-reaching and long term.

We are already seeing companies and retailers rethinking the way they are going to work in the future, with more home-working and ‘virtual’ operations, and less reliance on bricks-and-mortar office and shop space.

Make your buildings work for you

So, what can owners and landlords do, then, to unlock the value in their dead office or shop space? The way we’re doing business is changing and it’s time, I think, for them to acknowledge, invest and adapt.

Landlords need to look at their buildings through new eyes and ask whether there’s potential to convert them from commercial use to residential. This can generate new rental income and put money back into the maintenance pot.

Could you, for example, use the ground floor for offices but convert upper floors to flats or maisonettes? Perhaps there’s a retail outlet which still needs a ground floor shop window but no longer has use for upstairs storage. Or maybe that empty shop could be reimagined as flats, providing much needed accommodation for local people?

Local authorities have long faced challenges around rejuvenating town centres – remember ‘Queen of Shops’ Mary Portas and her mission to revitalise the high street? The issue has not gone away and planners are likely to be sympathetic towards projects which bring new life to tired towns, attract people into the centre and rebuild local infrastructure. This is particularly true where authorities have already identified the need for additional housing.

Bringing people back

Boris Johnson has already indicated that he is keen to overhaul the UK’s planning laws – perhaps easing the way for such ‘repurposed’ development – and has brought several former think tank specialists into No 10 to draft a new scheme by the end of the year. One of these, the Social Market Foundation, says that any plans to revitalise the high street with a new breed of shops is not the right solution.

Instead, in its New life for the High Street report, it suggests turning them into residential hubs, thus creating more than 800,000 homes. At a conservative estimate, it claims this represents just 5% of commercial land being released for residential use.

Of course there are challenges, planning permission aside. No one wants to feel like they are walking through a shop or office to get to their front door, so entrances and exits must be carefully thought out. Stairways, lifts, parking, security and so on are all important issues that must be considered and factored in to any plans.

People will want their residential space to be separate and discrete from any commercial operation, just as a business owner will not want to feel overlooked by private individuals.

Safety and fire regulations are also clearly vital, and any renovations must incorporate these in their designs.

It’s about creating the best design for the space, at St Georges Rd Cheltenham, we created two-storey maisonettes as it was difficult to separate the staircase, while round the corner and above the former Cath Kidston shop we designed five flats to work off a single staircase which has a separate access to the shop.

Getting the plans right will of course require investment, but if owners and landlords want to avoid the ‘dead space’ scenario and ensure a more sustainable and long-term income flow, then it makes very good sense to take the time to look at what you’ve got and rethink its potential.

This is about taking a longer-term view and exploring the best way of making sure you are getting value from your properties.

We recently completed the renovation of an office building on Gloucester’s South Gate street. Here we worked with a concrete frame building, that needed some re-engineering to replace certain elements. However, the result has been 18 flats which are now generating an increase in rental for the landlord and bringing 30+ residents into the area.

Review what you have

One of the challenges landlords and owners of premises face is how to see beyond the way their space is already being, or has historically, been used.

Our advice is simple, talk to us and we can conduct a ‘spatial audit’ for you, this can help you to look past how the building has always been a used as an office or shop, identify the potential of your premises and highlight what’s feasible.

Not every shop or office building will be suitable, and each must be considered on its merits. This isn’t a case of ‘one solution fits all’.  However, we are very experienced in bringing a fresh perspective to building use from listed to newbuild office space – give us a call and we could help you to bring a whole new way of life to the high street!