The British Shops and Stores Association (BSSA) has rallied its members to stand together as chief executive John Dean revealed that member numbers fell by 12.4% during the year at its recent AGM.
The BSSA currently has 3,800 members. However, a large number of previous members failed to renew their memberships in the 12 months to December 2007, and Dean said the shortfall was due to businesses closing because of tough trade or retirement.
However, Dean maintained that as independents face tough trading, now is the time for existing members and independents to unite.
He said: “Recouping our members within the current climate will be extremely difficult. The drop in members clearly demonstrates the pressures independent retailers are under and it is unlikely to change direction or tempo in the immediate future.
“We intend to assist members through a series of initiatives including how they can operate more efficiently and imaginatively,” he continued.
“We need to continue to work on both the government and opposition parties to make them realise the importance of the independent on the high street.”
Dean’s message that independents should not be deterred by the tough climate was underpinned by Aquascutum chief executive Kim Winser – guest speaker at the lunch which followed the AGM – who told members to seize the day.
She said: “Independents are starting to have a real opportunity. Some department stores are trying to emulate independents, which are flexible and can respond to trends.
“The outfit doesn’t exist any more – it is about being more individual. Take an independent like Corso Como [in Italy], it is setting the trend,” Winser added.
Dean reiterated that independents should focus on their uniqueness. “Small indepen-dent retailers will be under considerable strain but should be able to react to business conditions with more agility,” he said.