Have you visited a Dark Store?

Shopping Isle
5th December, 2012.


Have you visited a Dark Store?


By Thomas Morley, Associate, Agency



From a commercial property viewpoint an easing of credit and availability of finance for property lending will provide some real impetus to growth.  My colleague Neil Slade talked about a shortage of new development where demand exists but credit is difficult and I thought it was worth supporting Neil’s piece with a little more detail.
Well the headline from the latest Ernst & Young Item Club that “The crippling credit crunch is loosening” certainly seems to be a pointer that the availability of credit may be getting a little easier.
There is little doubt that the ongoing credit crunch and crisis in the Banks continues to affect business thinking nearly 5 years on from the start of the world’s economic woes.  The effects on property both commercial and residential are well catalogued and there for all to see – not least the retreat of values!
It is not an argument for inflating property values – what we need is more financial liquidity in the market to ‘make things happen’.
The Item Club lays bare some of the statistics around the credit crunch.  Part of their commentary was how UK Banks borrowed “£900 billion” that was borrowed from overseas up to 2008 and how we’ve been paying the price ever since as the UK reigns back from the £100 billion a year that Banks were using to fund domestic lending.
The Item Club explain that once it happened, the breakdown in the funding markets triggered several other crucial factors.  Secondary banking subsidiaries had to be supported, straining capital adequacy ratios.  Loan losses had the same effect.  Bank boards, as well as their shareholders and regulators, became very risk-averse as the losses mounted.  Tougher capital and liquidity requirements exacerbated the lending squeeze.  The ensuing recession made Banks even more worried and of specific concern for those earning their money in the property market, about the solvency of mortgage borrowers and small businesses.  Lending was depressed because the economy was depressed and vice versa, a classic vicious circle.
The Item Club thinks the background of tight credit and the Banks’ liquidity issues may be coming to an end with credit and liquidity requirements having been relaxed.  The Bank of England’s new Funding for Lending Scheme is designed to increase the flow of credit and reduce its cost, increasing the funding gap, or at least slowing the speed at which it is paid down.  It will reinforce the effect of the revival of the UK mortgage-backed securities market seen in recent weeks.
Ernst & Young say that ‘Although banks remain very risk-averse, they are effectively shifting the risk lending to affluent home buyers who have equity to invest.  In the case of first-time buyers, the builders and the government are shouldering the risk through new-buy schemes.  The banks’ capital base is also recovering’ they say.  Furthermore they comment that ‘These developments help to explain the marked improvement in the mortgage market suddenly being signalled by the Bank of England’s Credit Conditions survey, the sharpest since this survey began in 2007.  In the third quarter of this year, a significant proportion of mortgage lenders said they had loosened their lending criteria or were planning to do so, while 22% were planning to reduce the mark-up on mortgage rates.  The survey suggested that little movement in unsecured lending and forecast a continued deterioration in the outlook for lending to small companies, which it seems, are still regarded as too risky.  Nevertheless, these developments are encouraging.’
A lot of economic detail but for ‘property watchers’ and for those like us working in the property industry these are important pointers for how the market may perform over the next 12 to 24 months.
Not sure we can say this is the end of the credit crunch although we’d all hope that, it may just be the ‘end of the beginning’ though

Listening to the radio the other morning I heard  a story about the origins of text messaging 20 years ago and how it was first used by Vodafone and intended to be for internal messaging use only – to tell Directors where they were supposed to be when out on the road.  The developments in SMS or texting as it is generally referred to in the UK hardly had any implications for the property industry.  There is one fairly recent technological development that I am sure will shape the way we live though which will have a big impact – the ‘Dark Store’.

When my Dad aged 60+ starts talking about ordering the Christmas shopping on line then you know a major lifestyle change has hit us.

In property circles we have known how on line shopping began to affect the property market with Ocado, the John Lewis on line shopping operation, having been in operation for a few years. In property terms the impact has been fairly minimal except for larger operations such as Amazon’s huge warehouses, which ‘pick and send’ all manner of non-perishable goods.

However a phenomenon of the last year or so has been the ‘dark grocery store’ or a dotcom – only store with these ‘stores’ beginning to appear around the country after an inevitable beginning in London.

Waitrose has been one of the main early ‘drivers’ in building a network of such stores.  It is also reported that Tesco has now made investing in such units a priority, where it has four currently and a further three planned.  Asda evidently has two dark stores with a third opening in Nottingham.  These ‘dark stores’ are warehouse units stocked with groceries that are then picked according to the on line orders that come in.

Whilst supermarkets standing alone or on the high street will always have their traditional place there is doubtless a need for the – ‘supermarket in a warehouse’ where your groceries are picked and packed, especially where some operators lack full geographical coverage as well as for the convenience of shoppers making their grocery choices from the sofa.

The implications for property are not simply that industrial property agents are going to be using their retail agency colleagues’ contacts a lot more, but this is clearly an area of business that is gaining a more significant foothold.


If you need warehouse accommodation or advice on property contact myself or one of the Agency team on 0121 455 9455 or email thomas.morley@harrislamb.com

Disclaimer: The views expressed within this article or weblog (‘blog’) are the personal views of the contributors and authors only and do not necessarily reflect the views of any named companies or their employees.