During March , I travelled nearly 3000 miles , visited over 36 towns, from Maidstone in Kent, through Swindon, Torquay, Manchester, Liverpool to Glasgow , Edinburgh and back. The overwhelming conclusion is that we live in an extraordinarily diverse nation.
Yes, there is an enormous selection of culinary delights, a vast number of different languages and accents, and all combinations of the worlds major faiths plus a large number of lesser known beliefs. Furthermore, there is the enormous variety of landscape, from rolling hills, ancient woodland, through dramatic coastal regions to snow capped mountains.
No , I am not talking about any of this. I am talking about the diversity of the party market. It is something I have been aware of for some time but when seeing so much in such a short period of time it focuses the mind.
There are two particular areas I would like to talk about. The outlet and the type of product sold.
There are party shops, there are costume shops and there are party and costume shops. Within these three, there are big and small, old and new . Beyond these traditional outlets, there are numerous varieties which feature party as a key component of their product mix. The following are some of the more esoteric varieties…
Bong Shops- for those who don’t know, a bong shop is a place that sells smokers accessories, water pipes, herb grinders and various odds and sods that nobody else sells. But often they sell dress up and party items. The other peculiarity is that these shops tend to be in coastal towns. Why party ? Haven’t got an answer to that. The only connection that comes to mind is that the customers in bong shops seek other forms of mental relaxation and then go and party. The reality is that in a number of cases there is no fancy dress shop in the town , and in a seaside town it gives the retailer out of season opportunities.
Discount shops- There are various independent discount retailers who decide to spread their wings into party retailing. In general they do not operate with same discount pricing policy as their original store. It is often the case that they see the opportunity to make increased margins. What some have done is to utilise their retailing skills into Party retailing with good effect.
Dry Cleaners- I have to mention this one , as I have only come across the one but there is a remarkable synergy. This particular operation has been in business for some years. The synergy is that one half of the unit is a dry cleaners the other half is primarily costume hire. Need I say more !
I have seen retailers operate from barns, private houses, railway stations, old houses, new houses, and market stalls . There are supermarkets, card shops that sell some party, online operators that have a retail outlet, and of course, what we know as the traditional retailer as outlined in the first sentence of this section. Some are good some are bad. The remarkable feature of all them is that they are all quite different, even on the odd occasion where there is more than one in a town . Even more remarkable there are towns of a reasonable size that don’t have any.
For sometime, when asked by a potential customer, for ‘ …your top 50 items…’ I, politely, refuse or rather defer. Of course, there are products and ranges that sell well no matter where, especially licensed product. However, it is quite extraordinary the difference in what does and doesn’t sell even within a small geographic area. It is quite possible to go to an outlet in one town where the owner will tell you they sell a large number of one item . Yet 3 miles away another retailer will tell you they have never been able to sell that product.
Of course, the demographic has a large part to play and within the UK this can change very quickly. Where the demographic has less of an influence, is with online operators. Still, the principle can apply. Even with similar online profiles, you can find huge differences in what one can sell against another.
So what does this tell us ? It tells us that we live and work within an intriguing and diverse market place. It also shows it is disparate and unorganised. It indicates that as independent retailers, you are very vulnerable. On the one hand it makes it a nightmare for an entrepreneur seeking to open a national chain as a store plan in one town may not (change ‘to will not’)work in another . On the other, it does, in some cases, offer opportunities to the better retailer with good local knowledge and know how, to invest and operate effective small local outlets.
The immediate thought of how different we are to our European cousins, was dispelled on a trip to Arctic Norway. Walking into a tourist gift shop looking for some Norwegian memento, I was not surprised to find most of the product came out of the Far East. However, I was surprised to find half the shop selling fancy dress.
The other thought was that the better online operators can easily compile such diverse data as what is sold, where, when and by whom. It is what is done with that data , that is of interest.