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When the safest bet is to take a gamble

Is now the time to take a risk with your business? For many the answer would be no, at least if the comments made by the independent kidswear retailers in our weekly Indicator survey are anything to go by.

Among those retailers there is a reluctance to take on new brands and try anything that does not have a proven track record. But for the speakers at the Drapers Fashion Summit held in London this week, sticking with what you know was cited as a risk that retailers cannot afford to take at the moment.

The opinions expressed may have seemed extreme, such as Kurt Geiger chief executive Neil Clifford’s statement that designers should be given more control and merchandisers should be “put on three-day weeks”, but the principle makes sense.

Clifford was joking about the three-day week (I think) and went on to explain that if the merchandisers got their way, right now “they would just get in a spin and buy the bestsellers from last year”. Given that Kurt Geiger is one of the few footwear retailers on the high street to be doing well right now – and interestingly as its performance improves its footwear gets ever more extreme in terms of design – his comments are worth noting.
But if you think premium footwear bears no relation to your business, then perhaps you will take more seriously the words of Debenhams deputy chief executive Michael Sharp, who said that simply repeating your bestsellers season on season will not move your business forward. “It’s always easier to look over your shoulder than it is to look forward, but playing it safe is risky,” he said. Perhaps it is time to reassess what we mean by risk taking?

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