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"Find niche products, highlight they are British and tell their stories", says retail consultant Corin Birchall in his advice to independent retailers.

Posted by gbexchange on 29th Sep 2015

We recently discussed all things retail with independent retail consultant Corin Birchall. Following on from talking about Corin's views on British high streets and the challenges facing independent retailers, we thought you might like to hear Corin's advice to independent retailers whether they are just starting out or are looking to reinvigorate their daily routines.

What would your advice be to someone looking to open a shop? 

"Do your homework, too many startups dive in without doing sufficient research.

Ask yourself the following:

• How much footfall is there and what’s it like midweek?
• Are you looking at this through rose coloured spectacles?  Set a budget for costs and a prediction for sales.  Then double your budget and half your sales. If you can still make money you’ve got a good business.
• Is their sufficient demand for what you want to sell?  Just because your town hasn’t got a bookshop, shoe shop or deli - doesn’t mean it needs one or can sustain one.
• Is this the right location? A cheaper property on a secondary location may seem attractive, but you will spend a lot of money trying to attract custom. Get the right location.
• Is there money locally?  Find an affluent town centre. Vacancy rates are lower in affluent towns.
• What other channels can I sell through, to offset the overhead?  For example can you supply local businesses?  Could you have a website or 3rd party market place?
• Are you ready to give your life to this.  Owning a shop is a 24/7 job.  And most of that will be doing the bits you didn’t dream of.  Make sure you love what you are doing and you're not doing it just for the money!

I’ve seen many small business owners blow their redundancy money, family loan or equity in the house on new shop ventures, that simply should have never happened.  An independent retail business can thrive and flourish, many of the stores we deal with do, but you must do your homework first."

In your opinion how can independent retailers compete with on-line and larger retailers?

"An independent can run rings around a national chain by focussing on things an independent can do that large multiple retailers or online resellers find difficult.  So many national retailers today are trying to introduce the entrepreneurial spirit of a sole trader, particularly in their branches and franchises.

For example:

• Be unique and different.  You are not tied to national buying profiles or planograms sent from a head office.  Try quirky and unusual products, one offs (to create urgency) and promote them hard through social media and emails.
• Go super local with your products:  Find niche products, that are ideally manufactured locally, from a supplier too small to supply larger chains.  Highlight they are local or British and tell their stories.
• Get close and personal.  Really get to know your customers.  Use loyalty schemes in a targeted way to understand what, when and why they buy particular products.  If you are a clothes store, for example, keep a record of what customers buy.  Imagine getting a call or text “Hi Corin, I know you love slim fit pleated shirts with a firm collar - I’ve had a gorgeous shirt in today, I only have one in your size so I’ve put it to one side for you” - it is inconceivable that I won’t pop in and at least have a look.  A big retailer just cannot compete with this level of service.
• Make a fuss of the customers’ children.  Learn their names (using whatever technique necessary)
• Support a local charity or cause:  Have customers decide which charity you will support this Christmas, to get them involved.
• Integrate yourself into the local community.  Be aware of what is going on locally, reflect what is happening.  Get involved.
• If a local person hits the headlines, celebrate them in your window or dedicate a unique product.
• React to situations or opportunities super fast:  If the heavens open, drag your umbrellas to the front door.  If the sun shines, drag product into the street.  If you have a chalk board outside, update at 1/2 daily intervals, to capture the mood and energy in the town/city centre.
• Keep an eye on what is going on around you in chain stores too.  React faster and quicker to any changes they make.  Take the wind out of their sails any time they introduce a special offer or new celebrated range - with a better deal, bundle or solution.
• Be aggressive and competitive.  There is a perception, encouraged by nationals, that independents are expensive.  People shop at big chains or supermarkets under the illusion they are saving money.  Tackle it head on and show that you are better value. Pretty much everything an independent does directly drives sales, yet a national has expensive head offices, AGM meetings and area managers that cost the business lots yet generate very little.  These costs and can only be recouped through the prices it charges.  An independent’s lower overheads combined with the opportunity to sell add-ons and accessories mean many indies can take on the bigger chains and still make money.
• Target and appeal to those members of the community who like to be different.  You can spot them by the colour of their car, hair, clothes and friendship groups.
• People power - Many national retailers and most websites are faceless organisations.  They may be slick, efficient and operationally sound, yet lack the spontaneity, emotional connection and personality of dealing with a human being.  Be human - get friendly."

Can share your top tips to retailers when running their shops on a daily basis?

"Get a grip on your break even point and measure your performance to it daily.  Break even is the amount of money you need to take to stay in business.  Too many independents leave the finances to an accountant or more savvy partner.  Knowing exactly how much money you need to take each day to break even is something every store owner should measure.  Why?  If you are £50 short of breaking even today, there is a possibility to do something about it.  Put some offers on Facebook tonight, blast out an email, create some bundles and move to the front of the store.  If you wait for the week to end, or month to recognise the problem, we now may need to find £1,400 - which will be unrealistic.  If you don’t know your break even, ask you accountant or book keeper to tell you, then focus on hitting that figure everyday.

Stay busy:  Some mid-week days can be very quiet.  Ensure you have a good  3G, 4G or Wifi signal in-store, log onto next doors if you have to - but get online and start scheduling some social media posts, create some brilliant emails, write a keyword rich blog post and take some great photography of products.  Keeping busy doing positive activity that will attract and engage footfall is essential in quiet times.  Move your displays around, you can guarantee the minute you move something a customer will say “Oh I didn’t know you sold those” despite having it in for 6 months.

Look busy and get chatty, build rapport with your customers.  Don’t ask “Can I help you?”  (We know the answer to that) Instead say - “Wow that coat is stunning, where is it from?” or “So what brings you into town today?” both are likely to instigate a more rich conversation and the opportunity to build some rapport. Show a genuine interest in them, rather than trying to sell them something.  Remember everyone who walks in has friends, colleagues, family and at least 150 acquaintances on Facebook.

Have a plan and always be thinking ahead, ideally 2-3 months.  Have one key activity planned for every month, an event, launch, charity afternoon, kids craft morning, valentines push or big Christmas campaign.  Something major you are always planning ahead for.  This forward planning will give you time to find quirky props for displays, graphics for promotional materials, seek ideas from Pintrest and ensure you have something exciting to look forward to.

Make sure you capture data, footfall is unlikely to increase in the near future.  Take every opportunity to capture email addresses and add them to a Mail-Chimp or Constant Contact account and keep in touch."

We enjoyed hearing from Corin and if you'd like to learn more about what he and his team at Kerching Retail do you can visit them online or follow Corin on Twitter @Corin_Kerching Here at The GBE we want to help independent retailers deliver an excellent service to their customers and we do that by providing a one-stop-shop for sourcing British made products. Independent retailers may not have the costs of running a head office like the larger retailers do, but equally they do not have the resource to do everything that a head office does. The GBE is here to save retailers time and energy trying to source different unique products made in the UK and retailers can apply to open an account today.

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