Wilko shops set to return to the High Street before Christmas

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By Lora Jones
Business reporter, BBC News

Wilko will return to the High Street, with the brand’s new owner opening up to five shops before Christmas.

The owner of the Range, which also bought Wilko’s website after its collapse, will launch the first two Wilko shops in Plymouth and Exeter.

Its boss said that “it’s clear that there’s a huge love for Wilko”.

Wilko collapsed in early August, leading to thousands of job losses and the closure of its 408 stores, many of them in traditional town centres.

CDS Superstores, which owns The Range, said former Wilko staff would be given priority in the recruitment process for the new shops.

Its chief executive Alex Simpkin said: “The public reaction to the loss of Wilko stores was undeniable.

“That’s why we’ve taken the decision to reintroduce Wilko back to many of the High Streets and communities that it used to so proudly serve.”

While these High Street locations are convenient for shoppers without cars, since the pandemic there’s been a shift to bigger retail parks and out-of-town options with more space.

This as well as Wilko’s struggle to keep up with competition from other discount retailers, including The Range, B&M and Poundland was blamed for its collapse.

CDS Superstores is aiming to opening up to five Wilko shops before Christmas, with two leases signed already for High Street locations in Devon.

They will be “concept” stores, followed by two locations in the South-East of England and one in the North of England, which are expected to be announced soon.

For the first time, it is also planning to open Wilko-branded shops in Northern Ireland.

Wilko was founded in 1930 when JK Wilkinson opened his first store in Leicester. It expanded across the Midlands initially and by the 1990s became one of Britain’s fastest-growing retailers.

But after the firm collapsed into administration, other competitors like B&M and Poundland snapped up dozens of shops to operate under their own names.

A mixture of former Wilko sites and new ones are being considered for the new shops launched by CDS Superstores, with negotiations currently going on with landlords.

All of the five shops it is hoping to open before Christmas are expected to be quite different – some single-level, other split-level and an out-of-town retail park reportedly on the cards. They will not be “pop-up” stores, but a permanent fixture.

CDS said the new shops will offer Wilko products from cleaning and households ranges, to DIY and household goods.

In a statement on Friday, the firm said that the roll-out will carry on through next year, and it is understood that it is hoping to open as many as 200 shops within the next couple of years.

Richard Lim, chief executive of Retail Economics, suggested that the new shops would be able to benefit from the scale and systems that The Range has in place.

“This is a fascinating development and unlikely to have been part of the original plan when it was acquired,” he said.

But he suggested that the move would be “no easy feat”, with many High Streets struggling with dwindling numbers of shoppers out and about.

“Many profitable store locations have already been snapped up by competitors and a successful roll-out of this scale at speed will be dependent on the selection of great locations that offer sustainable levels of footfall,” he said.

In the new stores, customers will also be able to look through the full Wilko range and order products for home delivery on new terminals.

The Range also plans to sell Wilko products across its own 200 shops.

Lots of Wilko’s stock in its shops consisted of its own-brand products when it was operating, with shoppers lamenting the loss of its pick and mix sweets and household goods on offer earlier in the year.

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14 September