To be or not to be…

The independent electrical retail sector is at a crucial turning point, where it must decide whether to accept its frailties and fight for its survival, or slope off quietly into the night. Here at ERT, we have already made our decision, says managing editor Andrew Davies

For years, ERT  has watched the accelerating decline in size, influence and vitality of the independent electrical retail sector.

That decline has created a general air of resignation that everyone is simply managing an inevitable decline that is accelerating exponentially and would the last retailer to close their doors please turn out the lights.

However… For 127 years, ERT  has also watched the rapid ascent of the role of technology in people’s homes and lives. Not only have there never been more things plugged into the wall than ever before, but it’s reached a point where those things can now talk to each other and the outside world – creating a whole raft of new services and applications.

As far as consumer demand is concerned, this is not a dying industry; it’s a growing one.

And it’s here that we define the Turning Point this industry is at –technology has reached a point where it needs experts to guide consumers more than ever before, but those people best placed to provide that expertise are either struggling or closing completely.

To begin to address which way we choose to turn, we must first be very honest with ourselves and each other.

If you’re a supplier, do you really believe that a vibrant and thriving independent sector is essential for the long-term growth of your business? Or are you paying lip service while managing the decline you see as out of your hands?

And if you’re a retailer, have you honestly done everything you can to adapt and change your business as the market has changed? Or have you found it easier to keep plugging away as normal, hoping to last just long enough to reach retirement, while blaming suppliers, the internet, John Lewis and your local council’s parking policies for the decline you see as inevitable and out of your hands?

Do these two sides of the industry have the resolve and long-term commitment to work together to revitalise the independent retail market – not out of a moral obligation to preserve something that belongs in the past, but because they are both truly convinced that it can bring lucrative rewards in the future?

The truth is that, here and now, we simply do not know.

As we said, ERT  has watched and reported on all this for a long time, but if we want to encourage candidness, then we must start by being candid about ERT.

We are not a retailer or a supplier but we are, for want of a better description, a service provider that relies on this sector for its living.

The first incarnation of ERT  was published in 1890 – named after the new miracle of the age, electricity. As it launched it fizzed with optimism and excitement for this new technology; in 2017 this sector must decide whether it is able to force itself to see the future with such positivity.

This year we celebrate ERT’s 127th birthday, a milestone that makes it one of the oldest business magazines in the UK but, let’s be frank, as it stands today ERT  will not be around to mark its 130th birthday. It only continues to be published because it is heavily subsidised by the other magazines we produce outside of this sector – and that is wholly unsustainable.

As the value of independent retailers to suppliers has dropped, the amount they spend on marketing their products and services to that audience through ERT  has either plummeted or ceased completely.

Many of the biggest brands in the industry do not commercially support ERT, despite paradoxically pursuing continued editorial coverage.

We are not naive, and understand completely why that is so, but like the retailers that make up our readership, it means we at ERT  are hunting for a new business model, one that not only convinces suppliers that this audience is still commercially valuable – or certainly has a huge potential to be again – but that an investment in ERT  can help them unlock that potential.

But again, like those retailers, finding that new model is not proving easy.

We believe this industry will suffer even more without someone to provide forums such as Turning Point, but the brutal truth is that we’re a business with overheads too, we’re no longer observers of the industry; we’re right on the front line with you, fighting for our own survival.

So that’s the doom and gloom, but it’s important to emphasise that the ERT  Turning Point campaign is about moving forward and concentrating on the light breaking through the clouds.

The smart home does represent the biggest opportunity in decades to turn this decline around, although how is not an easy question to answer.

There are some fantastic independent retailers out there operating innovative and very successful businesses.

There are innovative and successful suppliers who want their products demonstrated and sold by true experts in the most exciting retail environments. There are some consumers who are prepared to pay that little bit extra, or take a little extra time, to find and enjoy a great retail experience.

We have launched Turning Point as an ongoing campaign to revitalise and re-inspire the independent electrical retail market to meet and exceed the demands of technology and the consumers that desire it.

It can be done, decline isn’t inevitable – only continuous change and adaptation should be. This industry has stood still for so long that it needs a huge evolutionary leap. We’re up for playing our part, how about you?