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Drapers Comment: When it comes to failure, the buck stops with retailers

During one of Drapers’ recent stories, in which we spoke, as we often do, to independent retailers on the topics most affecting them, the owner of one menswear store imparted some of his retail wisdom.

To paraphrase, he said: “If my business fails, it’s not because of business rates, it’s not because of online and it’s not because of the election. If my business fails, it’s because of me.”

While we are all aware of the tough and often challenging climate facing many independents today, I found this frank assessment refreshing. And over the past couple of weeks, while out visiting indies as part of the judging process for the Drapers Independent Awards, I have found this get-up-and-go approach reflected by many small business owners.

For those doing well despite harsh times - powering through austerity, the growing cost of owning a store and narrowing margins - the successful strategy does not involve waiting for the customer to come in, but rather get them in yourself. In 2014, 15,416 independents shut up shop for good according to the Local Data Company and British Independent Retailers Association. During the same year 15,762 opened - so it seems that more are getting it right (or at least giving it a go) than not.

Those I visited all deserve to be honoured for their efforts. I met one owner who had launched into personal shopping, creating two dedicated areas with champagne at the ready. I came across another who recognised thatm for their target market, it’s all about online, and has made significant investment to be able to deliver this. A further example involved a complete store overhaul, to reflect the design-driven shopper that walks through the door.

While we at Drapers will be at the forefront of any picket line demanding reform of the rates system and back independents in their call for more support, I can’t help but think this own brand of enthusiasm would do far more good for business and provide a greater return.

What are your thoughts?

  • Do you agree the success of a business is down to the efforts of the owner?
  • What do you do/what do you want to be seen done by stores to entice shoppers?
  • Does this approach work for every store?

Leave your comments below…

Readers' comments (4)

  • Yes your first point is always the truth, if the goods are wrong so is the business No need to get a MBA in business its called logic!
    The worst evil is the multiple/ retailers who discount all the way through the season, they kill the sector and the public just wait for the next bargain! Until it is controlled the problem is a real pain in the backside and itching won't solve it!

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  • darren hoggett

    Totally agree. If a business goes under, it's your fault, not the governments or anyone else's. You have failed, pure and simple.

    While there are always 'variables', if you know what you are doing and run your business well, you will succeed.

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  • Thierry BAYLE

    Eric, Yes a majority of the reasons why a business will fail is due to the owner. I have focused for over 20 years on the business of fashion at wholesale and retail levels ( UK, Europe, US). Firstly there is no real retail training so we learn on the job but trials and errors are costing businesses a lot especially as there is a lot of competition, customers are becoming more savvy, new technologies...
    In France, a fashion Federation working for Brands had to launch a project to bring retail training to indies as the President realised that the members' wholesale was decreasing due to the lack of retail training.
    With the years, we can easily become complacent and refuse to accept that we don't know what we don't know.

    One point at heart is that an indie is dedicating 40 to 50% of total sales to buying goods and yet there are very few indies that are analysing stock and sales by product category. They are all doing it by only analysing the brands ( it needs to be done of course ).
    If you do not analyse stock and sales by product category FIRST and then by BRAND, you are losing many opportunities. I can share many papers on that (or retail seminars ) if some indies want to learn more.
    Many of the retailers I work with also forget to set up a marketing programme over the next 3 to 6 months. This means you are under pressure at all times and you become reactive rather than pro active.
    ...
    Thanks for this article.

    Thierry Bayle

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  • Thierry BAYLE

    To entice shoppers, we can use all the marketing for which there are great experts out there.
    However the marketing is linked to the goods you have bought.
    As my role today to help the indie have the right product at the right time in the right quantity, here is a list of issues I face there translate into less sales and more discounts:
    * Some indies refuse to bring goods outside the jan to march + july to sept period. As the consumer is looking for freshness at all times, failing to bring fresh goods regularly (monthly) will ultimately kill the business and ask your customer to go and shop elsewhere. I was happy to speak with an indie last week who finally saw progress from Brands who have understood that the above did not make retail sense and now offer him 4 collections a year instead of 2.
    ==> the above ties up your cash, goods get old and staff and customers hate it.
    ==> When I see the retailer failing to meet the sales plan I have given him ( in April / May or Oct / Nov ), I hear that he is missing the right sizes or colours and of course the good pieces have sold at the start of the season so we are losing sales!
    The industry must gather and see the power some tools like the Open to Buy has to offer to a retailer.
    If we can avoid the retailer making an over buying of £5000 at cost in a one product category, it can pay for the open to buy plan for his business for the whole year.

    Some key points I would like to see is
    * more attention to better managing the buying/ merchandising
    * a marketing plan that is managed 3 to 6 months ahead of time

    Thierry BAYLE

    PS The above will produce results.

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