Retra CEO: ‘You have to continually look at your business and reinvent it’

Sean Hannam reports from the Retra conference

Independent retailers need to adapt if they are to survive.

That was the overriding message from the panel discussion session at this year’s Retra Conference (October 10), which comprised Sony UK and Ireland’s sales director, specialists, Roy Dickens; Miele GB managing director Simon Grantham; John Reddington, founder of Big Red Sales, and Retra chief executive, Howard Saycell.

Speaking during the panel discussion, which was chaired by business journalist and conference host, Declan Curry, Mr Saycell told delegates: “If, as a small or medium-sized independent, you try to compete with box-shifters, you’re going to get a hiding, because there are businesses out there that are extremely good at that. If independents are to survive, they have to continually look at their business and reinvent it – they have to make themselves more relevant to today’s consumer. If you go head to head with the big boys, then, quite frankly, they’ll knock you out.”

Asked whether brands needed independent retailers, Sony’s Mr Dickens said: “We’re a premium brand and we need independent retailers because there’s no doubt that they have a bigger share of the premium market – for us, it’s fundamental that they remain viable. There are people who can shift boxes more cost-effectively than independent retailers can.”

He added: “From our point of view, I’m not sure we are giving the right amount of support to independent retailers. There’s a prime reason for that – we need to actually understand what it is they need going forward. If we are moving into the connected home, what kind of support do we need to provide? If it’s rentals, what do we need to do to support that? At the moment, if it’s just about transactional box-shifting, we’re doing everything we can do. It’s about aligning with the future, rather than the past.”

Added Miele’s Mr Grantham: “Independents are very relevant – if you look at GfK numbers, about 22 per cent of the white-goods business goes through the independent sector and that is steadily growing. Without that channel, we won’t be able to explain our top-end products.”

Commenting on the need for manufacturers and independents to form healthy partnerships, Mr Grantham said: “The manufacturer needs to understand what drives the independents’ business and sometimes the independents needs to understand what a manufacturer wants.”

Said Mr Reddington of Big Red Sales: “As products continue to get more technical and more sophisticated, the independent dealer is more capable of passing those features and benefits to the end user.”