This week I’ve received at least seven calls from retailers all asking me the same questions in relation to our awards scheme, the Independent Achievers Academy.  As we head into the judging phase of the IAA and the team becomes ensconced in a sea of mystery shop scores, entry papers and store photos, a plethora of communications hits the doorsteps and phone handsets of our entrants. It’s inevitable then, that there are some questions heading our way from these entrants, asking what the next steps are, or wanting more feedback on their mystery shopper scores.

This got me thinking; are we communicating with our customers in the most effective way? If we were, would they have these questions? How can we improve our processes so that our communications are more congruous and our academy retailers receive an even more enjoyable experience?

Then it struck me that these are the very questions that our academy retailers are asking themselves every day in order to push themselves and the industry forward.   The reason they are so great is down to fantastic communication and asking the right questions of themselves and their customers.

But the fantastic thing is that, anybody can take a step back, assess their business, and come up with ideas that will improve their offering based on what their customers are telling them and what industry trends are indicating.  You don’t need to have 3000 sq ft of selling space, nor do you need to have a staff force of twelve.  What’s interesting is that although about 80% of IAA entrants are part of a wholesale group, the elements of each entry that impress the judges each year are rarely linked to the size of the shop or their associated buying power.  Of course, if you’re part of a symbol group and have access to the great support and promotions they provide, its invaluable to your business; but you need more than that alone to become a Top 100 retailer and maintain a sustainable business.  We’ve seen some incredibly inspiring and overwhelmingly innovative entries this year that have come from all walks of life; big symbol stores in urban areas, the more traditional ‘corner shop’, unaffiliated village shops in rural locations.  The examples of great work done by all of our entrants is a result of two key things; listening to their customers and thinking outside the box to provide niche services.   And that is something to be nurtured, valued and celebrated.