Nostalgia…retail’s false friend or worse?

As two more High Street ‘favouritesthreaten to disappear, much of the media shed crocodile tears over their likely demise. The real tears will be shed by their employees and creditors , particularly the smaller ones, who in turn may also loose jobs as a consequence.

Senior management , in addition to some journalists, said it was down to Brexit and online competition. How so ?

Toy R Us appeared from the States in the 1980’s. This retail invasion created its own havoc. Many long established independent toy retailers closed unable to compete with these huge toy warehouses. At the time as a potential customer (father with small child) I found them soulless, unhelpful and clinical. So they remain. They changed little as the travails of their US parent company, already in Chapter 11 , prevented any real investment. If it was the Brexit and online , why have competitors such as the Entertainer , a private company with nearly 150 stores in the U.K. and various stores overseas in such diverse nations as Azerbaijan and Pakistan, and Smyth Toys, with over 110 stores in Eire and the U.K. flourished as Toys R us have faltered .

Maplins is a very different ‘kettle of fish’. It is a British chain, being started by husband and wife in Essex in the 1970’s . However, they have too, been strapped for cash over the last few years and were taken over four years ago by private equity. Personally, I felt their offering was very niche, even ‘nerdy niche’. My experience within store has always been excellent. I say my experience, I mean annual visit to spend £7.98p on something I needed but didn’t really know what it was. And I think therein, lay the problem. The core of the product range being very nerdy, consequently many of their potential regulars knew what they were buying and could get it off the internet. Finally, the stores did not attract the female consumer reducing their potential target audience

As with the demise of C&A, Woolworths, BHS et al, the media shrieks ‘crisis on the High St’ seeks out consumers for quotes, which are more than often phrased in some similar way to the following….

…we will miss X from our local High Street……we have such fond memories when we were 6 years old (for 6 replace with any number as long as it 5 years from your current age!)

What you don’t hear is we spend fifty quid in there every month…in other words the consumer stopped going there. The retail environment is not sustainable on nostalgia alone. Nostalgia to be successful has to be ‘created ‘ in a twenty first century environment. It has never been any different . In the late sixties and early seventies , nostalgia was crushed by the advent of the modern supermarket. Over a period of less than twenty years , quite literally tens of thousands of corner shops closed. The press, once again, headlined the loss. But it was not all bad. For many employed in small independents, were re-employed by the nationals and found a structured retail career that would not have otherwise been open to them working for local corner shop.

There are good reasons to be wary of online operations. Currency fluctuations are a constant concern for all retail organisations, throughout the world. The aberration that is called business rates, is a major bugbear. Yet many retailers continue to thrive. The reasons for failure are sometimes complex, but invariably there are common issues, over leveraged, lack of investment and the belief that because the consumer used to like coming through the front doors, they will continue to do so. The U.K. High street still has many chains that are hanging in there by their fingertips. They are often recognisable by the drab and dated interiors, inadequate stock, poor ranging , and the obvious lack of custom. Invariably if you walk into one and it feels like a 1970’s , it probably is. That’s not nostalgia.

A bizarre consequence of nostalgia is the resurgence of the ‘LP’. It is believed that nearly fifty per cent of purchases are made by people without a record player. New record shops have consequently sprung up. Which is great but is it sustainable? Most of those who have opened these shops are eager enthusiasts, not retailers. I am a child of the sixties and apart from the album covers, I never thought much of the product then. When cds arrived , most couldn’t wait to get rid of them ( the LP that is).

Nostalgia should not be confused with tradition (recent post). Tradition is doing something in the way in which it has been done for many years . Nostalgia is harking back to something in the past and having warm cosy feeling about that ‘something ‘ . The commercial danger lies in not defining as to whether there are any real benefits from either to the business and more importantly are either hampering the business.

As is often the case, the media is often to blame. Only today in the Sunday Times , a journalist (fortunately not a financial journalist) states the failure of Toys R us is due to kids not having toys anymore. What utter tosh. The market in 2017 was approximately £3.5 billion and is estimated to grow to £5 billion by 2022. That’s a load of toys, what is relevant is where they are bought.

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