“You’ll need a very thick skin.” That’s what Kevin Hawkins, my predecessor as BRC director-general, told me as I took over from him five years ago.

“You’ll need a very thick skin.” That’s what Kevin Hawkins, my predecessor as BRC director-general, told me as I took over from him five years ago.

Now I’m about to make way for new director-general Helen Dickinson and passing on a few, not always serious, thoughts of my own.

Kevin was talking about the members. Certainly, they can be demanding and I’m sensitive to the fact that there’s no sector more internally competitive than retail. But, ultimately, I found members were the best bit of the job. It was the other main groups the director-general deals with – parliamentarians, policymakers and the media – that could be a challenge.

First, MPs – I have learned that they are never on time for anything. More worryingly, they usually prefer an anecdote such as, “My daughter pulled an old carrier bag out of her pond last week,” to any other evidence, no matter how comprehensive. Which is why lobbying matters. We’re presenting a perspective that they would not otherwise have.

Still, the most powerful four-letter word you can deploy with politicians is…jobs. Making the case for retailers around the numbers they employ and what they spend on training is the approach that convinces.

I have realised how important the media voice of the BRC is in getting our views listened to. I remember one meeting with a minister where a statistic on construction industry decline came up. He said: “I won’t do anything, because that sector isn’t lobbying in the media hard enough.”

He accepted the facts, but wouldn’t do anything because they weren’t in the papers or on TV. Ouch.

That’s the reality we are working with. Which makes a reliable alarm clock and a good supply of strong coffee essential if you’re going to be up at 4am and fit for those breakfast business slots.

Certainly the sheer intensity of our media output made it a tight learning curve at times. I still carry a few scars. I hope you’ve forgotten, but I never will, Watchdog’s Anne Robinson confronting me with a multipack of toilet rolls and a price calculation that would have challenged a Countdown competitor.

Although odder things have happened.

My son was in the barber’s where there was a TV tuned into the BBC News at just the time when I came on talking about retail sales.

My son said, “that’s my dad” and the barber insisted on giving him the haircut for free.

Is that what you call a fringe benefit?

Finally, what I’ll recall with most pleasure is making great relationships within retail – particularly through the generosity of chief executives, but also with the BRC’s expert and supremely able team.

Thanks to them and to Retail Week for running, and you for reading, my opinions on this exhilarating industry. The BRC is in good health. I hope that you will continue to support it.

  • Stephen Robertson, Director-General, British Retail Consortium