David Hockney tells a story about a great European portrait that was presented to the Empress of China. In Europe, artists like Caravaggio painted shadows. In China, Japan, Pakistan and India, the artists did not.

Looking at the picture, the empress said: “I can assure you, my face is the same colour on both sides.”

While David Hockney uses this story to promote his idea that cameras were used as technical tools to support great art by the old masters, it is useful to consider what it tells you about gifts and how you receive them.

Hard pressed local retailers considering the gift of strategic insight from suppliers often don’t get it. The suppliers leave frustrated at the “independence” of the retailer. The retailer perhaps scratches his or her head.

Booker this year handed out an excellent guide called “5 Steps to great retailing”. I have been meaning to blog about it for a long time. (It would be interesting to hear from anyone who has used it; there was an excellent series of articles in Retail Newsagent promoting this.) The guide aims to walk you around your store and see it like a shopper. Score yourself honestly and make improvements.

What is missing is a section at the start asking a retailer to self-assess what they are good at. This is important and in reality unless you, the retailer, ask for this help then it is something you have to do by yourself.

I think this stage is important because of a problem that independent retailer Val Archer identified to me. Nick, she said, good retailers are already doing the things you recommend and the retailers who need to take your advice are simply ignoring you. Often, I thought, this is how retailers behave.

I was at a talk by Nikki Owen last week when she talked about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Instead of the usual five stages she boils it down to two. People are either in survival mode or in growth mode. In growth mode they will take Booker’s excellent booklet, scour it for good ideas and adopt those that work for them.

In survival mode, they will take all of the advice as criticism! And do nothing different…

Think about where you are. If you are in survival mode and have read this far, that is amazing. Thank you.

Hockney says that both Chinese paintings, with their multi-perspectives, and European paintings, with their fixed point perspectives, are fine. You see the world depending on how you choose to see the world.

Most suppliers don’t understand the long hours that independent retailers need to put in to be successful. They don’t really understand shoppers outside of their own categories. But they have lots of great stuff to share and if you are clever, you will adapt their ideas to make your business a success.

Yes your face is the same colour on both sides. Yes, in a photograph, one side is likely to be in shadows.