With large numbers of staff accepting redundancy and a slump in profits, what should Wilko do to make things better?
Although its enthusiasts will claim it is one of the most dynamic, fast-moving sectors in which to work, with all the machinations surrounding Brexit, retail still lags some way behind politics.
It is said a week is a long time in politics. Not quite so fast in retail, but a quick glance at the Wilko “brochure” that was published in the latter half of 2016 shows how much things have changed.
Back then, a page was devoted to plans for opening “100 stores over the next five years”. Were the same document to be printed today, it would be interesting to see whether this vaunting ambition would be the same. And it’s a fair bet that it would not.
“Now that everything is available online 24/7, larger store portfolios look like folly, and interiors that are not differentiated mean shoppers move on elsewhere”
Wilko’s profits collapsed 80% in the full-year that followed the 2016 statement, and even by the most optimistic reckoning, now the order of the day would probably look more about retrenchment than expansion – as the staff redundancy consultancy programme revealed by Retail Week in August demonstrates.
Wilko stores today are a bit like Woolworths was back in the day. Although better managed, they appear cheap and not that inspiring.
This is, of course, an accusation that can be applied to a good number, but in the current “challenging retail landscape” – as Wilko’s chief operating officer Sean Toal put it – being OK is really not enough.
In truth, it never was. But now that everything is available online 24/7, larger store portfolios look like folly, and interiors that are not differentiated mean shoppers move on elsewhere.
Muddling through really isn’t an option and hoping for the best means fewer customers, because there are retailers elsewhere that are doing things better.
What next for Wilko? “100 fewer stores over the next five years” might be a good starting point, and if this were achievable, it might free up some capital that could be used to give Wilko’s interiors a sense of identity.
As it is, take a photo inside a standard Wilko and it might be a struggle to work out which retailer it is if shown to a high street or retail park shopper.
The products on offer in Wilko really aren’t that bad, but something needs to be done about the shops and the experience of visiting one – and to be done much sooner rather than later.