Alan Hawkins, chief executive of the British Shops & Stores Association (BSSA), has urged more independent retailers to attend its future Oxford Summer School events, the most recent of which took place last week.
On average about 8% of the 250 delegates at the week-long event at the city’s Keble College are independent retailers, but Hawkins said he’d like to see the proportion increase.
“Independents should feel welcome. They won’t be intimidated if they come, and they will find it very relevant,” he said. “It’s not all graduates and in fact the independents who come find themselves well placed because they have broader retailing experience, a Jack of all trades if you like.”
This year’s event featured presentations from Harvey Nichols chief executive Joseph Wan, Shop Direct boss Mark Newton-Jones and Marks & Spencer head of multichannel Susan Aubrey-Cound. Delegates also had days of study dedicated to key areas including finance, marketing and merchandising, and had to produce a project on the positioning and branding of a hypothetical department store.
It costs £1,600 to attend but at least 10 scholarships are available from retail charity Retail Trust and sector skills council Skillsmart Retail, while some independents secured funding from other sources in their local regions.
Independent department stores which sent delegates this year included Barkers & Larners of Holt in Norfolk, Jarrolds of Norwich, Hoopers and Morleys, while multiples such as John Lewis, Marks & Spencer and Aurora Fashions also sent participants.
Hawkins said family businesses where the next generation was about to take over could particularly benefit from taking part.