Trump is the least of our problems…at least for the moment….

In the next twelve months we all face many unknowns. Unknowns are problems in their own right because being ‘unknown’ makes it very difficult to plan and act, we can at best be prepared to react.

What we can plan for are the ‘knowns’ .Retail analysts , much like most other analysts aren’t necessarily the best indicators of things to come ,but you can’t avoid their historical data.

U.K. Retail sales in December were apparently down 1.6%, this was against an uplift in November. Whereas, the total figure (including online) is not clear , it is very evident that footfall is down. Springboard , a retail data analyst states that there was a fall off 20% in the footfall in shopping centres for the New Year sales.

There could be a whole bunch of reasons for this but what is clear there appears to be less people going out to shop and then they are spending less . Again, this has to be taking into context and considering a number of factors, such as online, changing habits , lack of confidence, ‘don’t need anything’ syndrome, and a mistrust of retail ‘sales’; to name a few.

Backed up against this there have been reports from some retailers, which were surprising. Waitrose ended with Christmas figures better than expected and even Marks & Spencer’s experienced like for like growth and that was with clothing as well as food . In fact, according to the Kantor World Panel half a billion pounds (wrote this as I don’t the number it equates to, nor did the journalist who originally reported the figure). So the figures don’t really equate, percentages down, figures up . What do we believe?

Whatever the real picture there are two ‘knowns’ on the retailing horizon, inflation for the consumer and rising costs for the retailer (living wage being one example). Both of these are financial sponges. They suck money out of the people’s pockets. Yet, even if there are these storm clouds and consumer spending is hit, our fellow consumers will spend approximately £300 billion per quarter (Office for national statistics)! A load of money by any standards. Any good retailer’s first priority is to ensure that they get their share of this . 

Now in expressing my opinion I may part company with the odd reader ( it maybe all, as ‘the odd reader’ may well define the total number of readers). The retailers that survive and prosper are those who are innovative and progressive. Those who are over cautious , are most likely to suffer. The ‘cut back on stock, not try anything new, just sell what we have always sold ‘ brigade , just won’t sell enough. Sticking to what sold yesterday, is not tomorrow’s template. The consumer has and is changing, they will expect the retailer to change. If they walk into the store and it is not well stocked and there are not new and fresh products, they may not come back so often or worse still they may not come back at all. This , in itself, is hardly a new approach but is ever more important. Consumers expect and demand new offerings.

Julia and I have just come back from a trade show in the States and we visited some party stores as well. Yes, that great big mega consumer society, suffers from similar problems. We saw at first hand, the difference between well stocked, big choice ,good  customer service and the opposite. The difference being customers. The former, obviously, had a lot more(the same day,an hour apart) than the latter , of everything.

Retailers, who started during the financial crash understand the need to innovate. Those who are longer established , tend to err on the cautious. Perhaps ‘cautious innovation ‘ is a path.

It requires a great deal of boldness and a great deal of caution to make a great fortune, and when you have it, it requires ten times as much skill to keep it.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (19th American philosopher)

What won’t work is battening down the hatches and hoping yesterday’s plan works tomorrow.

Trump is one of the many unknowns. We have no real idea whether his Presidency, will have any effect on us. As is the case of Brexit, it is a complete unknown, as we don’t what it is or will be. We need to deal with what we know…who knows maybe aliens are coming ..that will sort the wheat from the chaff.

Wind beneath my wings…a breath of fresh air ?

The title is a bit of a stretch to the blog content, but sounds a lot more catchy than Alchemy , or maybe it doesn’t. There again, does Alchemy Wings mean anything? As a test of severely limited ingenuity, I shall try to create  a meaningful link to the title, by the end of the blog.

Alchemy Wings is a startup in central London, offering an online delivery service to a  trial of 50 corner and convenience store, delivering crisps, snacks, and drinks (both alcoholic and non alcoholic) to their immediate customer base. Nothing especially exciting or revolutionary about that.

What I think is revolutionary are the startup’s backers, organisations such as Diageo, Coca Cola, Mars and Heineken. They are taking the view that whilst the biggest percentage of their retail sales come from the giant National Chains, their biggest profit margins come from the Independent. They don’t want to see a  further decline in the number of independents. Finally, the penny is starting to drop (not related to any drop in the Pound!).

How the thing works is that if you live ‘locally’ you can order your six pack and crisps from your local shop online (via Alchemy Wings web site) and get delivery in one hour. The trial service is confined to inner London , but if it works the plan is to extend it to large towns throughout the UK. Whilst the concept of setting up a web site for local independents is not new, the support given by big and powerful brands is,and perhaps sheds a little light at the end of the tunnel for many retailers.

I am not  expecting an explosion of corner shops. That is never going to happen, there are too many other obstacles not least , are the  independent shop owners (particularly corner shops) who are rubbish retailers. Yet, it does indicate that major suppliers are starting to understand that the future does not lie just with multiples. 

Suppliers in every retailing sector should take note. It is not an easy balance, as in some sectors independents are either not in sufficient numbers or not sufficiently professional. If the numbers stack up, in terms of outlets and professionalism, creative  ways of supporting the good retailer should be investigated and pursued. 

If supported, there is plenty of evidence that good independent retailers will continue to prosper despite intense competition from online operators, multiples and multiple discounters. This independent engenders loyalty to creative and supportive suppliers. It is just very surprising to see such initiatives coming from such big brands. 

Unfortunately, good retailers not only need support from good suppliers and consumers, they also need support and understanding from local and central government. Perhaps, the involvement of major international brands may help in raising the volume of that call.

It goes without saying, 2017 will be a tester. At every level of the chain , we,all, need to be creative and supportive. Happy 2017 !

So finally back to the title : Wind= Alchemy, feet = independent retailer and  finally ‘the breath of fresh air’ = major brands. That was a bit easier than I thought.