Last November I began listing distressed retailers. I could already see then I would need a record to keep track of the growing number.
So far, I have listed 87, some appearing several times with different iterations. This is a market like no other we have seen, and what is happening is structural.
We are seeing an enforced resetting of the relationship between supply and demand. Too much of the former and too little of the latter. However seductive it might be to blame Brexit, Amazon or the man in the moon, these are bit-part players.
The writing has been on the wall for many years – I have been talking about it for at least 15. The only surprise is that it has taken quite so long.
“Perversely, growth markets narrow the differences between the weak and strong. This market is the opposite”
This reset is going to last years but it is certainly not the end of retailing, nor is it the end of stores. However, it will mean fewer stores, fewer retailers and fewer shopping malls.
Growth markets provide wriggle room for weak retailers. It is possible to post trading numbers with pluses in a growing market. Perversely, growth markets narrow the differences between the weak and strong. This market is the opposite. It is actually very easy to see the difference between the winners and also-rans.
By far the best way to spot the winners is to look at their stores. They have a buzz and exude confidence. Their body language is clear and unambiguous. Their product offers are edited – categories have a clear range architecture.
Pricing is equally clear and maintains integrity, adhering to a consistent calendar that customers are used to.
Winning is less about ‘what’ and more ‘how’. Some of the winners are value players. In food, it is Aldi and Lidl that continue to set much of the competitive agenda. They have loads of physical growth left and will gain material market share from the major players.
They continue to be underestimated. It is always a mistake to make judgement through one’s own lens.
In clothing, Primark is similar. It will not allow anyone to get too close on price. But there is far more to Primark than rock-bottom prices. Its range and product development is a case study in tightly managed, sequential expansion.
In general merchandise there are B&M and Home Bargains, both outstanding retailers from sourcing to operational execution in store.
“Cutting costs, CVAs and restructuring are fine as far as they go but, in this market, it’s nowhere near far enough”
There are also plenty of consumers happy to pay premium prices if the retailer can persuade them it is worthwhile. Selfridges does this brilliantly, constantly innovating with new offerings and freshness to drive footfall.
Like Selfridges, Hotel Chocolat sells something that can be bought far cheaper in countless other stores. Both these retailers are adding significant value to support a significant price premium.
These are just a few examples – there are many others. However, they give a clue as to the prerequisites of winning in the emerging market.
There is a worrying amount of fanciful talk of turnarounds and rescues. The winners teach us that having a strong revenue line is fundamental. Cutting costs, CVAs and restructuring are fine as far as they go but, in this market, it’s nowhere near far enough.