Future of Retail: Challenge or Opportunity?

Future of retail?

Has retail got a future? Yes.  Will it be the same as it was? No and yes.

We have been in retail for ever!  Jacqui was brought up in a family retail business.  Her earliest memories are of delivering groceries with her dad on a Saturday afternoon. Keith was a relative late comer.  His first Saturday job was a petrol pump attendant. Earliest memories were cold numb hands from filling cars with petrol all day.

We joined Jacqui’s family grocery business at a time when the future of grocery retail was the giant sheds of the supermarkets and ‘experts’ were predicting the total demise of petrol forecourts. Do we still have grocery and petrol forecourts? Yes.  Have they changed? Yes and no!

We were in at the beginning of ‘convenience retailing’.  We helped develop the concept.  Jacqui became Retail Vice Chair of the National Guild of SPAR representing convenience retailers from across the UK and working with government on multiple retail issues.  Convenience retailing became the future of independent grocers and independent petrol forecourts.  The multiple retailers were slow to react to this new sector but eventually created their own versions.  So the experts predicted the end of independent convenience stores. Has the convenience sector got a future? Yes.  Will it be the same as it was ? No and yes, in an ironic twist an independent convenience retailers ( Mohsin and Zuber Issa) have now bought ASDA.

Retail is community…

Good retail, whatever it size or product, is embedded in its community.  Our proudest moment was been awarded the UK National Neighbourhood Store Award.  Good retail reaches out to  its customers, its community and its suppliers.  That’s why Tescos and all the other large grocery retailers CSR policies shout about their social impact.  It is not a coincidence that ‘community focused’ large grocery chains have survived whilst non community focused fashion retailers such as Arcadia have not.

Retail does not happen in a vacuum.  Cathy Parker of The Institute of Place Management is constantly driving the message home that the high street is a community that survives if it meets the specific needs of its ecosystem.

Online shopping is growing because it creates an online community of buyers and sellers that understand each others needs.  At the same time speciality shops are flourishing.  Holly Shackleton of the Speciality Food Magazine regularly shines a torch on the growth of this sector.

James Lowman of the Association of Convenience Stores advocates that good local retail when it is allowed to open belongs to its local community.  We captured many heart warming stories of the difference local retailers made during the lockdowns. We were extremely proud when one of them was recognised in the Queens New Years  Honours List.  It’s a shame that there wasn’t more recognition for the thousands of local retailers who stepped up to the plate.

Do community retailers have a future? Yes. Will it be the same as it was? Yes they will still be part of their community and no, the ways they interact with their community will change and their definition of local will embrace an online community.

Challenges or opportunities?

Life is full of change.  Change is always a challenge and an opportunity.  We sold our retail business a few years ago and the challenge was we had no qualification to prove we were retailers.   This led to the opportunity to complete a Masters Degree in Business Management.

From the Masters degree, we were then given huge opportunities to work within the HE Sector.  Jacqui focused on family businesses, Keith focused on the supply chain.  We started PhDs, we worked with government, we lectured, presented conference papers, we developed business programmes and we missed business!

So we started the Guild and went back to working directly with businesses.

One of our first roles as Thomas Jardine & Co was to advise a group of small retailers on how to stop a giant Tesco store been built on the edge of their market town.  We are not anti Tesco, we just want retail to have a level playing field.  Our role was to demonstrate to the local decision makers the depth and impact of the supply chains to the local retail community.  The plans for Tesco didn’t go ahead and it’s satisfying to see how well these local supply chains served the local community during lock down.

As retail develops all retail models face challenges.  If the retailer does not adapt to these challenges then a new retailer will see the opportunity and can then eventually replace the old retailer.  If the retailer adapts and changes to the new community challenges then they have a future but they will have changed. The retail market is now adapting to a post lock down world (Retail Gazette).

Solving challenges and opportunities.

Retail is about changing to the needs of your community. The best way to solve a challenge or take an opportunity is to do something about it.  The hardest thing is deciding what to do and then sticking to it.

The best way of thinking and doing is committing to a peer group. By sharing your thoughts and actions with a group of peers you will both decide what to do and then do it.  It is that simple.  Find a group of peers and get on with it.  We did this via the National Guild of SPAR.  What’s more, we are still doing this with the businesses we work with.  We are starting new peer groups with the Cumbria Peer to Peer Network.  The best thing is that places (for qualifying businesses) are fully funded by the Cumbria LEP.  If you are a retailer and want to share your experiences with us and other businesses that are part of your community then do get in touch.