Who would want to be a retailer?

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Phil Mullis, Partner

Phil joined the firm in 2008, became a Partner in 2012 and heads up the Retail and Wholesale sector team for Wilkins Kennedy.

June 28, 2019


There does not seem to be a week going by without another high street casualty – often citing reasons such as increasing overheads, falling sales or a lack of investment as one of the reasons for shuttering the business. 

With this in mind, Phil Mullis, Head of Retail and Wholesale at Wilkins Kennedy, asks ‘who would want to be a retailer?’

Starting a retail business is a brave move in this day and age – anyone would be forgiven for looking at the current landscape and running a mile, but one strategy that can help the path to success is being relevant.

Are you relevant?

One of the first thing any budding entrepreneur should do before setting out their stall is look at what has gone wrong with other retailers. Retailers such as Toys R Us, BHS and Maplin are just some of the retailers whose demise can be attributed to their lack of consumer relevance.

In a society where consumers are window shopping and then going elsewhere to see if it’s cheaper or can be delivered for free and quick, arguably these retailers were stuck in a time warp without investing in a clear identity of what they are offering and to whom.  Much of their demographic had moved on and their offer did not appeal to a new customer base.  In respect of Toys R Us, a toy shop, it seem to extract all the fun and magic out of the customer experience, whereas competitors such as The Entertainer and Smyths, make the shopping experience, through any sales channel, fun and exciting.

Lessons to learn and tips for success

One key lesson is that if you are going to start up your own retail enterprise do some thorough homework beforehand on how people are shopping and how you can remain relevant in an evolving world.

With that as a starter try some of these tips to help your retail business succeed:

  • Identify a target market for your products and carry out focus groups to gather opinions on the products, as well as the customer’s preferred method of shopping.
  • Invest in some intelligent stock management software that helps you to analyse the type of customer buying your products, the frequency, the value and at what times – all of this information can inform your future purchasing and minimise discounting on products that are harder to shift – resulting in stronger margins!
  • Create a niche. There’s a lot of talk about Amazon’s impact on the high street. Arguably, Amazon has been one of the big game changers in the modern retail world but my advice is - Be you and don’t try to be Amazon. For example – use the human touch with customers by offering knowledgeable customer service.
  • Consider giving people an experience in store so they keep coming back. If you’re a toy store is it about creating a play area? If you’re a clothes shop, how about using augmented reality displays to show how a customer looks in different clothes?
  • Invest in social media. These are incredibly savvy platforms that, through paid-for advertising, can target certain demographics in certain post codes. If you know your target customer, then this should be effective part of your retail strategy.
  • Consumers can be creatures of habit, so consider offering subscription services for any goods you’re selling that are classed as “fast moving” and are less of an emotional but more of an essential purchase. For example, Wilkinson Sword recently bought a firm called Harry’s which built its success from a subscription model.
  • Network with your retail neighbours. Having regular catch ups with other businesses about how each other is performing, or brainstorming ways to drive footfall into an open space in a town or shopping centre can generate more profit for businesses.

Would you be a retailer?

There is no doubt that the retail landscape is experiencing a fundamental change and the oft used term “retail apocalypse” is citing an end of days for retail.  However, retail is evolving and not ending; retailers are understanding that getting close to the customer is key and also giving them a great experience helps to bring those customers back, time and time again.  Yes, it can be hard but nothing is given easily and with imagination, planning and insight, you can be a strong, profitable and relevant retailer.

Phil heads up the Retail and Wholesale Sector Team for Wilkins Kennedy.  The Wilkins Kennedy Retail and Wholesale team love solving problems and working together with clients to drive and grow their businesses.  Please do get in touch with us and see how we can help you in a rapidly changing and dynamic retail marketplace.

Phil can be contacted for further business advice at philip.mullis@wilkinskennedy.com

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