Re-inventing the Wheel….Retailers do it all the time ……

An Original Wheel
An Original Retailer

I’ve got to say, whilst both concepts remain little changed in their function , the ancient retailer, in many ways, resembles the modern version much more than that of the original wheel.

Whilst aesthetics and the use of the wheel has undergone massive changes, basically the retailer does exactly the same as they would have 2000 years ago and more. They buy something and then sell it. Meanwhile, the wheel has undergone multiple transformations. It is no longer just about shifting stuff , it enhances power, tells the time (cogs), controls movements (steering wheels ,Ship’s wheel,) ,Chinese revolving wheel tables to name just a few. The Retailer still buys then sells.

But, of course , it is not quite that simple. Since the early 1900’s retail (especially within the U.K. & the USA ) began to change dramatically. In 1901 Michael Marks and Tom Spencer started to roll out their first joint venture under the Marks and Spencer banner and consequently the beginning of the ubiquitous British Chain store . Between 1931 and 1939 Jack Cohen expanded from 1 store to 100. In 1903 John Sainsbury opened his first grocery store (the very first general store was opened 1869) by 1928 there were 128.

In the 1950’s the concept of the Supermarket started to emerge, followed by Superstores, Discount operators , Convenience Stores , Mail order catalogues, even Boot Sales and eventually through to Online Retailers. All these were evolutions that would change retailing, and in the view of some eventually kill the High Street, independents and market traders. There is,of course, an element of truth in that view. But it is not the whole picture . By 2020 there were still over 300,000 retail outlets employing 2.9 million people.

So, What now ? Oh yes, we have Amazon Shops ! And what the f…!(…=acebook) we are now going to get Facebook shops.

Meta, the social media company formerly known as Facebook, has discussed opening retail stores that will eventually span the world, said people with knowledge of the project and company documents viewed by The New York Times. The stores would be used to introduce people to devices made by the company’s Reality Labs division, such as virtual reality headsets and, eventually, augmented reality glasses, they said.

The New York Times Nov 2021

But that is not about the changing wheel. What I have seen since the pandemic (and it is particularly during the pandemic I have seen this emerge) is a new type of independent Retailer that is dragging the High Street into the 21st Century .

During the late 1990’s, early 2000’s the major brewers started to dominate the Pub Scene. The inevitable consequence was a constant consolidation in the number of pubs and beers. So was that the end of the local hostelry ? Not so, there are now nearly 2000 Micro breweries in the UK ,many with their imbibing outlets.

The total number of (gin) distilleries registered in the UK in 2020 grew to over 560 (at least 563)*, up from over 440 (at least 441) in 2019.


Street Food Stats: (Dunns Food & Drink Oct 2019

  • Over 6.6 MILLION posts on Instagram with the hashtag #STREETFOOD
  • Mexican is the 3rd most popular ethnic cuisine in the UK
  • Street Food is consumed by 2.5 BILLION worldwide each year
  • 71% of Generation Z like to try new dishes and flavours
  • The street food market is now worth an estimated £1.2 BILLION in the UK
  • 68% felt that street food introduced them to new flavours
  • £198 is spent on food and beverage by festival goers each year

Who would have believed this ten years ago……

There are now 14,727 physical shops in the UK which sell records, CDs, DVDs and Blu-ray, up almost 50% on last year, according to research by the Entertainment Retailers Association (ERA).8 Mar 2016

This is a six year old figure but there are no suggestions to show that this has changed much.

UK vinyl sales have continued to climb in the UK despite the dramatic impact of COVID-19 on the music industry. 

New figures from the Entertainment Retailers Association – who manage Record Store Day in the UK – reveal that last month’s RSD ‘drop’ on August 29 saw vinyl sales rise 3% year on year with 2.7 million units sold so far in 2020. 

Rob Copsey Official Charts

Since the easing of various lockdowns, I have been able to restart visiting towns throughout the UK. There is change (retail) afoot. There is evidence of more individualised independent retailers of all types offering different product in a much more professional manner . Perhaps it is the Hipsterisation of many town centres eg Brixton, & Hackney in London, Salford in Manchester, The Quays in Liverpool ,Glasgow’s East End, and areas such as Handsworth in Birmingham. There is a new vibrant feel. As such, it does create a dichotomy. That is to say these changes are coming at the behest of the middle classes. The poorer areas of towns and cities are not going to attract the entrepreneurial retailer. And that is very clear from seeing some of these areas where there are loads of boarded up shops. Yet, there is always hope, as landlords will start looking at their rentals and encourage these entrepreneurs with much more competitive and attractive rates. I digress.

Over to Ari…..

Aristotle November 2021

Our ancestors invented the wheel and it remain unchanged for a long time. The opportunists saw other possibilities so the wheel went from this …….

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To this….

Formula 1 Steering Wheel

Retailing has gone from this …..

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To this….

Less Change, more Innovation

You’re Toast…..

Plagues, pestilence, pandemics,post apocalyptic scenes of retail destruction, are not for here.

During the last fifty years there has been an extraordinary period of massive technological development. From communications and computerisation , through travel to medicine , entertainment and so many areas that impact our everyday lives . You can turn the central heating back on at home via your smart phone from the other side of the globe.

It feels that every day brings an announcement of some monumental change. Electric, self driving cars, electric planes, robot surgery , it is ceaseless. Yet there is one area which remains exactly where it was fifty years ago. Technology has been defeated by the humble slice of bread. Nothing, absolutely nothing, de nada…. has changed.

Yes, a few extra dials have been added on some models . Now you can toast your Bagel on a Bagel setting. You can defrost your bread on a defrost setting. But they are only cosmetic. In reality they are just words on the dial as they are only timing setting that have always been there. They, all, still just toast and not very well, like what they did before . We wont even go to the Commercial Toaster. Yes we will.

That worse than useless bit of kit that they have at buffet breakfasts in hotels, that creates long queues, where you have to write your name (in case somebody nicks it) on the bread because you will have to go around at least twice, and then by the time you get back to your table, hottish, vaguely brown toast has become cold and soggy.

Commercial Toaster

Where are the Elon Musks, Steve Jobs, James Dysons of the Toaster World ? Is it because it ain’t sexy like electric cars, iPhone and Vacuum cleaners . If so what is sexy about a Vacuum cleaner ?

The UK market, alone, is worth about 5 Million toasters a year (this, apparently does not include Commercial toasters). The world market has an approximate value of £1 Billion. So it is a toasty (sorry weak pun over tasty) market. One issue maybe the potential returns. In the early sixties the price of a toaster was about £6 (not much different to the average minimum wage). Yes, you can still buy a toaster for £6. Yet that did not stop Dyson making an amazingly expensive vacuum cleaner ,with which you don’t even get any bags!

That said, if we assume that six quid was just about a weeks wage, today you can buy a piece of kit (drone) that you fly remotely, drops bags of drugs into prison yards, film your neighbours unruly kids from a great height (or worse) or fires high powered missiles into unsuspecting enemies from 6000 miles away ( I know they cost a bit more than a weeks wages) for much the same sort of money.

Hands up we are a fifty quid toaster couple. Yes, ours can toast 4 slices , heat bagels, defrost bread and lasts 9-10 years (average toaster life is 4-5 years) but we cannot guarantee that the bread gets toasted in the same way every time. However, the sixties toaster could do all that except toast 4 pieces. That’s toaster innovation for you.

This week alone there has been the announcement of speakers that you can hear, and you alone. Yes, four ( is that allowed) of you can sit in a room and it creates an audible bubble that only you (whoever you is ) can hear the speaker- no head phones ! Don’t ask , I don’t know . What I do know is I can put a slice of bread in my toaster and I have no idea what it will look like until it has popped up. Maybe toasting is more exciting.