The store of yesterday isn't right for today, and the store of today isn't right for tomorrow.

I start most weeks with a chat with Stefan Appleby, the Head of Digital at Newtrade. Our conversations are about how can be enhanced, and my ideas for future content. Recently we were talking about what retailers need to do to attract new customer traffic as well as retaining the people they already have.

When I said that I felt that “the store of yesterday isn't right for today, and the store of today isn't right for tomorrow”, Stefan picked it up and tweeted it.

This thought comes from my own retail experience. Two specific incidents stand out. In 1985 I was branch manager at WHSmith in Henley-on-Thames. The store underwent a complete refit that involved it being closed for nearly three months. On the relaunch day, the Area and Regional Managers and I were standing in the middle of the sales floor admiring the new store when the Area Manager asked an older customer what he thought of the store. The gentleman looked to his left, and then to his right, and asked what we had changed!

When I had had time to recover from the unexpected response, I was shocked to realise that spending over £200,000 (that’s around £600,000 today) didn’t mean that we changed what the store sold: the range was basically the same and customers essentially buy the products offered for sale, not the fixtures and fittings.

The second revelation came when I was analysing my bestseller reports for alcohol in 2004. What I discovered was that our previous best-selling whisky, the Londis own label, had dropped out of our top 5. It had been our no.1 bestseller for the past three years and I was shocked to discover that sales had collapsed.

The two significant lessons that I learnt from these experiences are:

  1. Customers are primarily interested in what you stock and sell, not what the shelves look like.
  1. You need to be stocking the products that they want to buy today; these may not be what you sold in the past, and may not be the same in the future.

As long as your store is clean, well-lit and you offer great customer service along with having the products that your customers want to buy, you will have sorted a major part of what will make your business a success.