If you are reading this blog, ask yourself if this kind of thinking could affect you. Ask yourself how good your shop is. Be honest.
Earlier this month, I visited 10 newspaper sellers (one a multiple) unannounced in one town centre. Only two of the shops were in pristine condition and one of these, a gift shop, did not sell newspapers. The other eight were tired. Most had not seen a refit this century. Some not since the 1980s.
A few had friendly staff but that could hardly make up for a poor first impression. Three of the shops had half open outers of stock lying about on the floor where they had been dropped. One shop was busy. The others were quiet.
In one the assistant was watching a TV in the back room. In another, the two staff members chatted to each other. A shopper came in asking for Match Attax cards and they simply said they were on order, making no attempt to encourage the shopper to return.
This was a shocking picture of independent retail. The one multiple I visited was not much better. At the last shop, the gift shop, where they sold cards and gifts only, they took an interest in what I was doing and tried to help. When they heard the word newspaper, they told me: “If you want a newspaper, you should try Sainsbury’s, it is over there.”
What is going wrong? Perhaps these other nine retailers are only looking at each others’ shops and thinking that what they are doing is good enough. Perhaps there is just enough trade to keep them in business. But the ladies in the gift shop summed it up. If you want something, go to Sainsbury’s.
It does not have to be that way. There are many great independent retailers. In fact, I usually only visit great retailers, trying to work out what makes them successful and then sharing this with other independents. This month’s visit was salutary.
At least five of the independents I spoke to were clever enough to do better. They are simply not pushing themselves hard enough. They need to, otherwise they are going to lose their customers faster than they think.