In light of management changes across the sector, it should be noted that change is an unpredictable but inherent part of the retail world.
There has been much talk about the management changes going on in retail recently, with inevitable references to ‘revolving doors’ and ‘turmoil’. There certainly has been a very wide range of reasons for change, from the predictable and overdue at Morrisons, to the entirely unexpected (but not out of character) at SuperGroup.
A succession of management changes always makes people feel that there is instability, and maybe that they are the symptoms of deeper problems. In some cases this is justified.
But retailing is an industry that changes all the time – indeed it has to change in order to survive.
Beyond the boardroom, there have been some striking examples of big changes in the retail world over the past few years, most of which were not predicted. The massive growth in convenience grocery retail; the big decline in secondary high streets; the phenomenon of click and collect; pop-up shops – and so on.
Of course there have also been big predicted changes that haven’t happened (yet), such as NFC payments, organic foods, massive showrooming, etc.
Not all the remarkable changes get into the news. For example, when I ran supermarkets in Ireland, we took great pride in having fresh-fish counters in all of our shops, often with ex-fishermen manning them.
We had a great range of fresh fish but in truth, we usually struggled to get customers to buy much other than cod or salmon, and even then it was driven by promotions.
Then, about four years ago, in the depths of the recession, fresh-fish shops appeared all over the place, seemingly at once. Moreover, they often had queues at busy times. By all accounts, they’re still doing good business. So where did that come from? In truth, I have no idea.
In a similar vein, the London suburb where I live has sprouted at least six bakery stores in the last four years.
They’re still opening, though now with more specialist offers. But where has that demand come from? Could it have been predicted?
My point is that change, often dramatic and significant, is an inherent part of the retail world.
One of the great features of retail is the immediacy of its contact with consumers. So when those consumers move with a trend, we are the first to feel it. This means that to remain strong in retail, we have not just to live with change, but to embrace it.
One important way of doing this is to be courageous about getting involved in new things that are happening in our space. Another is to make changes along with, or better still just ahead of, our customers.
So if you look around your business and see that everything is carrying on just as it used to, with the same people doing the same things, and your retail offer has been doing business the same way for generations, this is not a cause for quiet satisfaction. You should be worried.
- Simon Burke is a director of the Co-operative Group