Retra CEO hits out at direct selling

The chief executive of electrical retailers association Retra has hit out at manufacturers who sell direct to consumers.

Speaking at this year’s Retra conference (October 10, The Royal Lancaster Hotel, London), Howard Saycell said: “I want to raise the thorny topic of direct selling – many members raise this on a regular basis and I want to make Retra’s position clear.

“We believe that retail and manufacturing skill sets are different. Both are crucial to the customer experience. In recent years, a number of manufacturers have taken the step into selling directly to the end consumer. This is, of course, their decision, and it is none of Retra’s business how brands decide what is their best route to market.

“Equally, it is the Retra member’s decision which brands they decide to invest in. Decisions in terms of stock, share of voice in store, staff training and all the other aspects of working with a brand are influenced by that brand’s decision on whether or not they engage directly with the consumer.”

Mr Saycell added: “I have worked in this industry for over 30 years and, like many of you in this room, I have seen many brands come and go. Many household names no longer exist. Others have seen once mighty market shares sorely diminished.

“Where a brand loses focus tends to be the start of the downfall. Some brands have even taken the decision to go direct and then decided this was not the right direction of travel and have gone back to what they do best – designing great products that excite the consumer, and letting retailers do what they do best – look after the consumer.

“This market is ever changing and we all must adapt to make ourselves relevant, but let’s not forget what our respective strengths are and not blur our specialism – especially in the eyes of the consumer.”

The theme of this year’s Retra conference was ‘Making your business relevant for tomorrow’s customer’.

In his opening speech, Mr Saycell highlighted the need for independent retailers to embrace the smart home, but said it was “very disappointing” that Retra had to cancel smart-home training courses that were organised by distributor AWE at the Cedia offices in St Neots, Cambridgeshire, due to a lack of interest.

Said Mr Saycell: “Sadly, the uptake of these courses was not sufficient to warrant running them. I have to say this was very disappointing.”

He added: “We do believe the smart home represents a major opportunity for the independents.

“Who will a consumer trust to enter their home, agree a specification that is right for them and deliver the end to end solution? A multiple retailer? Someone they have never heard of off the internet? Or, their local electrical retailer, who in many cases has served their community for decades and may well have supplied generations of the same family.

“I know who I think they will trust, given the opportunity! It’s that word again, opportunity.

“Many independents failed to capitalise on the laptop and mobile phone markets and I understand the reasons why, but this is different. AWE will be running another ‘Introduction to Smart Home for Retailers’ [course] in early November and once again it will be free to Retra members.”


  • For more news from this year’s Retra conference, see the November issue of ERT