Growing numbers of SMEs see more businesses searching for commercial property to rent


The number of small and medium sized businesses (SMEs) in the renting and operating retail sector has grown by 16% in the past five years, making it one of the top 30 industries for SME growth, according to a new study from specialist challenger bank Hampshire Trust Bank.

The annual research reveals that the number of SMEs has grown in total by 23% from 2011 – 2016, with office admin and business support demonstrating the highest growth (76%). This is followed by human health services and motion picture, video, TV, sound recording and music publishing, both of which have experienced a 50% rise in the number of SMEs in the past five years.  

The study, conducted in partnership with the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR), analysed the top 30 micro sectors in the UK to establish which are growing the most. The study reveals that service-led industries have grown strongly over the past five years.

Top 10 UK micro sectors by SME growth

Micro sector

Number of SMEs (2016)

Number of SMEs (2011)

% change


Office admin and business support




Human health services




Motion picture, video, TV, sound recording and music publishing




Other professional, scientific and technical




Land transport and pipeline transport




Head office and management consultancy




Computer programming




Architectural, engineering & technical testing




Transportation and storage




Activities auxiliary to financial services and insurance activities*





Specialist sectors

Hampshire Trust Bank also analysed the industries in which it has specialist expertise. Alongside the growth in the number of SMEs in the rental and operating retail sector, the number of smaller firms in the construction of domestic buildings sector has risen by 38% over the same time period.

Despite both industries witnessing positive growth, real estate – which includes renting and operating retail space – SMEs do not feel as confident about the long-term future of their industry, compared to 2016 data. The study found that 53% of this sector’s smaller firms are optimistic over the long-term, down slightly from 57% last year. Real estate SMEs felt economic uncertainty (50%) and the level of taxation (35%) were key barriers to growth.

Through its Asset Finance division, the bank also provides hire purchase and leasing finance for businesses. For this sector the report shows the transportation and distribution sector has grown 41% in the past five years. This trend is reflected by the bank’s own data, with the bank’s Asset Finance division seeing a 15% increase in business from the transport and distribution sector from 2016 – 2017. This positive growth trajectory echoes the optimistic outlook this industry holds for the future. The study finds that the transportation and distribution industry is the most positive, with 60% of respondents stating that they were optimistic about the long-term economic prospects of their sector, compared to 53% in 2016.

Mark Sismey-Durrant, Chief Executive Officer at Hampshire Trust Bank, said: “SMEs are thinking long-term about their business and for many sectors this is a positive projection forward. The renting and operating retail sector has shown considerable growth over the past five years and as a bank we are seeing larger numbers of SMEs take advantage of Asset Finance deals to help propel their business forward. We back the growth ambitions firms are demonstrating yet with SMEs in the sector displaying lower levels of optimism, more needs to be done to boost their confidence levels. But positive thinking is not enough. We need to recognise the importance of smaller businesses and the role they play in the success of the UK economy and ensure these firms have the support they need to thrive and grow. We believe this is where specialist banks such as Hampshire Trust Bank can help, providing SMEs in the sectors in which we operate with the funding required to support their growth aspirations.”

Nina Skero, Head of Macroeconomics at CEBR, said: “The service industries account for around 78% of UK GDP, hence it is encouraging to see that over the past five years growth in the number of SMEs has been particularly strong in these sectors. The buoyant confidence among SMEs is a further sign that these businesses will continue supporting economic growth. The UK is undergoing a period of great economic change and cultivating this optimism must be a priority.” 

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