How the retail market could do with a reminder about resilience

Curium | 11 Apr 2019 | News | General News, General

In this blog, Curium Director and Co-founder Andy Dawson considers the fate of the high street and why retailers need resilience now more than ever.

Retail headlines this week prompted me to dig out an old blog looking at the state of the High Street. It’s worth a quick reflection on what has happened since then.

It is sad to see that both House of Fraser and Debenhams have entered administration. One has fallen into Mike Ashley’s hands, while the other has evaded his grasp (for now). M&S has yet to rise. Archie Norman’s Midas touch is still to work and it is closing more stores, including the one in my local town of Sutton Coldfield, which will be a massive blow to the shopping centre.

However, here in Birmingham, the world’s biggest Primark opened today. Covering 161,000 sq ft over five floors, the new store will employ almost 1000 people and is expected to attract 5,000 visitors on its opening day. As well as affordable fashion, the store includes a Disney-themed café, a ‘Hogwart’s Wizarding World’, a barbers and beauty studio.

As the BBC reported: “It sounds like it has redefined the department store in an age when the high street’s future is far from certain.”

The big question facing councils and town planners is what to do about the high street? If we merely use the high street as a browsing experience, only then to buy on our smartphones, what is the model of the future? How do we break that cycle?

In terms of innovation, we hear more about robotics. Ocado’s automated picking centres seem to be winning retailers over (including M&S). But, critically, have retailers and landlords started to deliver anything that increases footfall into the high street? I fear not, and I am yet to experience anything personally.

One retail story that has grabbed my attention is that of Superdry. Founder Julian Dunkerton has ousted the board for being too corporate, not understanding the customer and rushing into children’s lines.

On a podcast with Rob Moore interviewing Co-founder of Superdry, Julian Dunkerton suggested that there are some simple things that will turn Superdry around. I hope it is that simple. We live in an age where we overthink and, sometimes, there is not enough action.

That said, the political and consumer landscape is a mess, so it won’t be easy. Where businesses are investing, they must manage this process carefully. And please, remember to invest wisely, especially in your people. They are an asset not a cost!

What lies ahead

We can’t control #Brexit, nor can the politicians. I think that smart leaders will be getting themselves quietly set up for success in the background. Maintaining a presence in your market is key as it is easy to sit on the side-lines and wait for things to happen. Keep focusing on your customers and those who act like they want to win will have the best chance of success.

Control what you can

One area to focus on: resilience. I’ve been very lucky to meet some fantastic businesses through @Heropreneurs. They are ex-forces personnel who are setting themselves up for success in the business world.

They have a different perspective on challenging times, how to handle them, how to focus on what needs to be done and then getting it done. For an example, listen to Lawrence Jones MBE interview ex-Royal Marine Andy Grant about how his life changed after he was blown up by a bomb during a routine patrol in Afghanistan.

At Curium, resilience is a key component in our leadership programmes. It is too easy to sit back, wait and complain about market forces, government and Brexit. Now is the time for leaders to lead, both on the high street and across the country.

Finally, please spend a thought for charities out there who also compete on the high street and suffer when times are hard. We’re very proud to support @AcornsHospice and I know that @TobyPorter and his team would value any support that you can give them.

Andy’s previous blog; Retail reflections and trends – Dec 2017

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