It’s been a dark few weeks for British retail: the biggest high street collapse since Woolworths and two sector leaders hauled in front of MPs.
Already struggling with an image problem, in the media, in government and perhaps most damagingly among the country’s young, talented minds, retail has once more been cast as the villain – a sector dominated by shady deals, exploited workers and fat-cat bosses.
Very few in the industry would believe that this run of events is a true reflection of either their businesses or sector they love. But outsiders looking in would be hard pressed to find much to admire or inspire about the retail industry in the pages of the national press at the minute.
Aside from the very real human cost of what has occurred, the wider tragedy is that you need only give Retail Week a cursory glance over the same time period to see the gap between that perception and the reality of a sector that remains one of Britain’s most vibrant, innovative and exciting industries.
Take for example our recent list of international retail and financial giants – from Sanpower, Steinhoff and Landmark Group – whose interest in investing in UK retail businesses demonstrates how attractive it remains to those with a keen eye for long-term, value-building investments.
Or take this week’s Big Story, which looks at the retailers that continue to merge digital, physical and emotional experiences with great skill. This is a sector still brimming with an entrepreneurial spirit.
Much to celebrate
In New Look’s full-year results this week – earnings were up 7% – we have seen the result of the kind of strong leadership, vision and customer focus that is retail at its best.
Meanwhile, the recent appointments of two of the most high-profile roles in the country, Steve Rowe at M&S and Sergio Bucher at Debenhams, continue to demonstrate the meritocratic and progressive characteristics that are the hallmark of UK retail’s success.
British retail can and will bounce back from its most recent setbacks, but there is a huge collective responsibility to deal with this image problem. Retail Week will do its part to promote and speak on behalf of the industry. We will continue to highlight excellence in these pages and through our awards schemes and lead on campaigns such as Be Inspired.
However, the onus is on individual companies and leaders too to go above and beyond what has been before to ensure the true picture of retail is painted and the industry gets the respect it deserves.