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.

 

 

 


It’s good to talk

Its good to talk, to share the day

We know it’s good to talk. We are based at The Guild a coworking space in the beautiful Carlisle city centre.  Up until COVID our main business involved face to face contact with businesses large and small.  During Lockdown One we adapted to the new online world of Zoom ,Teams etc.  A brief respite during the Summer meant that we had the joy of actually talking to people face to face. Then Lockdown Two brought us back to the online world.

This week has really brought home how much we and other businesses have adapted.  We now all know more than ever that you have to talk and share your day with other businesses.

The new normal is not Shangri-La BUT it’s not Blade Runner either…

Our new normal is intense.  Like most SMEs we are probably working more concentrated hours than ever before. Some of this is good news and some not so good.  Answers to the following questions can have both a positive and negative impact on your life or on your business:

  • How many hours a week do you save not travelling to meetings?  But how many of those hours were non contact time that you could gather your thoughts in?
  • How many early mornings and late evenings can you fit in and not have to leave the house? Does this mean that work time has encroached on your home life?
  • Whether you’re working from home or from your business do you find you can focus on the task in hand quicker?  Are you focusing on business at the cost of everything else?
  • Does the loss of turnover ‘motivate’ you more to search out the new opportunities? Are you getting tired of chasing new?
  • Has the loss of regular income focused you’re mind on really cutting business costs back? Have you shrunk the business back to a point where you are doing everything again?
  • Or have lock downs and COVID made you really busy, where you are at full capacity? Is your business coping under the pressure and how much of this will continue once lockdown eases?

Questions, the good, the bad and the ugly can feel lonely without peers

The real danger of social distancing is that a cry for help or a shout of joy often goes unheard.  We know one of the main benefits of coworking is the ability to share the good and the bad.  Sharing this with fellow businesses just makes it better still.

We have found that we can now get some of this back online.  You don’t have to feel alone in the wilderness and you can share your joy outside of your room.

How we shared online…

Like many other businesses we have taken our established business relationships online.  Knowing who you are dealing with helps online relationship work.  We are working with a great business team who will launch a brand new product next year.  We were approached by an old business contact to write submissions for honours awards.  Knowing the team meant we could run phone interviews immediately and capture great stories around the nominees.

We are also working with a new business introduced to us by a fellow associate.  Here trust in the go between has meant we have all committed a significant amount of time to a project before any of us have met in person.

Trust is so important

Our final thoughts go to this week.  On Monday we held an ONIT Zoom meeting with our fellow Guilders. ONIT has been running for many months and it is now an online meeting of businesses (Guilders) connected with the Guild.  The agenda was simply how do we deal with our wellbeing?  We all laughed. We all reflected and most importantly we all shared our ups and downs.  Trust amongst a group of businesses that have shared the same experiences allows us to take on this new normal. We owe a personal thank you to Mondays group who just made our life that much better.

Peer to Peer, a place where it is good to talk

This week we also launched our first two Action Learning Groups for the BEIS funded Peer to Peer Network   facilitated by our Jacqui Jackson and the talented Tina Cook. This is where businesses can really share and work on solutions for their businesses with fellow business leaders. These groups will run through to March next year.  We are already really impressed with the level of honesty, trust and care our businesses are showing.  In Cumbria our cohorts and those of Cumbria Chambers are now full.  If you want to join the Cumbrian Peer to Peer Network there are still paces with groups led by Entrepreneurial Spark, the Leadership Secret and Skills for Care. Just contact Helen at the Cumbrian LEP for more details.

Final Word

It’s always good to talk.  The very act of saying out loud what you are thinking releases pressure from your brain.  We are sociable animals.  So please use what ever medium suits you AND get out there and talk.

If you want to know more contact us.