Corin Birchall is an independent retail and marketing consultant and founder of consultancy firm Kerching Retail. Having worked with a variety of retailers including gift stores, coffee shops, farm shops and department stores, Corin has over twenty years of experience.
Corin is also passionate about British towns and cities and works with various organisations across the country to deliver projects which can enrich town centres and provide fun, exciting, safe environments which everyone can enjoy and benefit from.
With vacant shop unit figures starting to decrease and independent retailers everywhere getting ready for their busiest time of year, Corin has shared with us his thoughts on independent retailing and the changes he has witnessed during his time in this sector.
You work with independent retailers, consulting with them to improve their sales and marketing strategies.
What are the most common issues retailers face at the moment?
I consider the biggest challenge to be that the job has changed quite dramatically. The experience, knowledge and skills many store owners have, do not necessarily match the job of running a retail business in 2015/6. If we were realistic, there are few people in this country that could fulfil all the skills of running a retail business today - which is why national retailers have dedicated digital marketers, social media experts, consultants who come in and advise on strategy and creative agencies, finance teams, retail store designers, visual merchandising experts and area managers to maintain standards. Yet we expect an independent retailer to be able to do all this.
For many of the independents we deal with, footfall is the primary concern they raise. The steady decline in town centre footfall over the past 10 years has hit some pretty hard. When you factor in sales lost too to supermarkets and on-line retailers it can be difficult for a small store to operate profitably. When we explain the numbers to business owners they can see the need for change; whether it is improved conversion, increased average spend or a major recruitment drive for new customers.
You have over 20 years experience in retail, how have retailers changed and developed in regards to buying products?
Some of the most exciting changes to independent retailer buying have happened in the last 5 years. The ease in which customers can obtain most products from national chains, supermarkets and internet sites has driven the smarter independent to seek out creative niches and new unique lines.
Whether from an incredibly small local supplier, such as a farm with two cows or a local craftsman making wrought iron furniture by hand. Neither will have the ability to supply larger chains - yet can offer premium quality products in small quantities.
The Great British exchange is another example of this growing demand.
With shop vacancy rates making headlines, what creative and inventive ways have you witnessed for the use of these empty shop spaces?
Vacant units are a big problem for town and city centres. Whilst the national figures for vacant stores have started to drop finally, many towns and cities are still blighted by prominent, long standing and often dilapidated vacant units - dragging down the overall appearance of the centre.
We have been involved in a number of successful schemes to reduce vacant units, although working in this area can be very challenging and frustrating, particularly for short tenancy: due to the complexities of occupancy, rates and meeting necessary requirements. Mixed ownership of UK commercial property also complicates matters.
Possibly the most exciting is a project we are working alongside at the moment to help a cluster of micro businesses open a shared space. Each business would struggle to support a store on its own, but collectively creates a compelling offer. It is a commercial venture and would best be described as a bricks and mortar version Etsy.com. If successful it could breath new life into a long standing vacant department store.
There have been suggestions that in order to encourage people to shop on their local high street there needs to be an 'experiential' quality to it... do you believe this to be true?
And if so, what kind of experiences do people want?
Absolutely. It extends to the stores as well as the high street in general. If I can get pretty much any product I want from my local supermarket, convenient out of town shopping centre or website - what reason do I have to visit the town centre? That is where the experience plays a critical role.
We know, for example, that dwell time directly correlates to the amount of money people spend. i.e. The longer someone stays in a town the more money they spend. We also know that larger party sizes stay longer too - i.e. A couple shops longer than a single shopper and families shop the longest of all. If we can build high streets and town centres that appeal to couples and families, with entertainment, coffee stops, quirky family friendly stores and smiley staff - we will attract and keep shoppers longer.
We'll be hearing more from Corin as he takes us through his advice to independent retailers and you can follow him @corin_kerching on Twitter or find Kerching Retail on Facebook.