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The future’s bright if people come first

It has been the coldest summer since 1993, according to meteorologists.

It has been the coldest summer since 1993, according to meteorologists.

It certainly feels like it has been a chilly year for retail. Many retail chief executives have been wrapping themselves in an insulating layer of cash as they hunker down to ride out the challenges of the next few months. So, I was pleased that the 82nd Oxford Summer School, by the British Independent Retailers’ Association (Bira), was still over-subscribed and well supported by the industry and large and small retailers.

The fact that the school continues to have a waiting list reflects the view of many of our best companies that investing in their staff is crucial to generate long-term benefits and has to be seen as something that cannot be deferred or cancelled. In times when many of us are looking in great detail at every tiny expense that can be cut, this says much for the forward-
nature of our retail leaders.

A week away from the business in an entirely different environment for aspiring managers or owners-to-be is a wonderful experience. Watching representatives of what we would normally see as compet-itors working together through exercises to test their marketing, merchandising, financing and other skills is inspiring, and can only be of benefit to the industry.

That many independents also attended alongside the employees of retail multiples, thanks to sponsorship by the Retail Trust and Skillsmart, made this year’s school a rounded event and something that reflects well on the bright future that the retail industry has beyond its clouded present. This is not wishful thinking or long-term weather forecasting: bookings are already well-advanced for 2012. It seems that in a world of short-termism, retail does take a long-term view of its people - and that points to better summers in the future.

Michael Weedon is deputy chief executive and communications director of Bira

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