11 lessons in how to lead a retail business

You get the impression from Bill Grimsey, the former boss of Wickes, Iceland and Focus DIY, that all it takes for success is some vision and some guts. He may be right.  His book, Sold Out, aims to propose ways to save the high street and by extension independent retailing. What makes his book stand out, however, is not his pitch but the detail of his career in retail.

For independent c-store operators there is much to think about. Grimsey provides a useful overview of how the supermarkets took over in the 1960s as more and more households bought fridges and the weekly shop became possible. The next step in giving supermarkets an edge was widespread car ownership.

Grimsey describes the success of Tesco’s price cuts in 1977. He was personally involved in the next step forward, helping to deliver improvements in customer service in the late 1980s. On page 150 he provides a very useful four point summary of how to create a good impression with shoppers.
Moving forward to this century and he provides an interesting commentary about his attempts to enter the convenience market while running the Big Food Group.

He could see a market gap for the c-store. He had run a small chain for Budgens. At BFG he had Iceland, which owned small and medium sized stores in convenient locations, and Booker with its local shop distribution and Premier symbol group. He would build a 2,000 strong nationwide brand with a mix of owned and “franchised” stores.

But Tesco also saw the gap. In 2001 it spent £530 million buying 850 T&S Stores and seized a big market position. In part, Grimsey, says Tesco won because the competition authorities were spineless.

The biggest challenge for local shops, he shows, is the naivety of shoppers who believe the supermarkets’ propaganda. Chapter eight on Not so special offers is a useful guide to how promotions work and how supermarkets work with regulators to be successful.

He explains how point of sale hurts local shops. Unlike market stalls where you talk to shoppers, POS creates a one-way interaction. The only bargaining power the shopper now has is to choose where they want to shop and which brands to pick, because they no longer have a platform to negotiate.

“This state of affairs makes shoppers vulnerable to promotional stories which are not as real as they first look.”
Of his ideas for the future, my favourite is to have fun and to bring this back into the High Street (or local) retail experience.

Sold Out provides independent retailers with lots of ideas. It is written by a man with a passion for retail and who has lived through the changes that make today’s market so challenging and interesting. He lets you in on the secrets of how the big companies operate. He tells you what their strengths are and what their weaknesses are. Sold Out is entertaining and it will help you improve your business.


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