Where do we go from here?

Good independents will adapt their businesses to survive in today’s market, but they can’t do it on their own. They helped to establish many top brands, now they need their help if they are to stay the course, says Retra chief executive Howard Saycell

As an industry, we have to decide what value the independent retailer adds.

Many of the big brands owe their very existence to the independent sector.

When they first launched, many suppliers established their brand through the support of the independents. Once established they then, understandably, needed volume, so expanded their distribution accordingly.

The time they really need the independents again is when they want to establish a new product or format.

If we let independents wither on the vine, then the whole industry will be the worse for it.

Brands must continue to invest – or even over-invest – in the sector to keep it alive. A balanced distribution makes a brand strong and able to occasionally say ‘no’ to the big boys.

Independents need a point of difference. They must be able to offer something over and above either the internet or big retail chains.

If they try to compete on price, whether it be in-store or online, they will lose. They need to genuinely be the specialist in their chosen field.

The brands can help here, with exclusive ranges, offers, training and directing consumers to the independents.

Howard Saycell
Howard Saycell

Independents must do their bit by offering real ‘added value’ to the brands and independents need to invest in their customer experience by having a great store and great people. They must also embrace new technology and interact with the modern consumer on the level that the consumer chooses. It’s no good doing everything right in-store if nobody comes through the door.

The key to the survival of the independents is an industry commitment to the sector. The share of the market they have now fallen to is very dangerous for everyone.

All the brands must decide if they want independents to survive. It’s not just about money – it’s about instilling in your company a “think independent” mentality. Make everyone in the business think about how they can support the sector. This needs to go right through from sales and marketing to distribution, finance and any other touch point.

They need to be talking to their bosses, whether they are in the UK, Europe, Asia, or anywhere else, and explaining how and why they should be investing in independents.

It may require brands to act and invest together. Independents are an endangered species and should be treated as such, with collective action by the people within the industry with the power to change things.

We need an industry approach. We need to identify the people that can survive and develop a plan to help achieve that. We need to fight our corner for the independents. There is lots of heritage there.

Some of the big retailers aren’t very good at introducing new technology – that’s where the independent dealer has a special relationship with the consumer.

One of the challenges facing the independent is that as people retire from the retail industry, a lot of the second and third generations are not interested in taking over the family business.

If you’re an entrepreneur, and you’re going to invest in something, you’re going to look for what return you’re going to get on your investment.

We have to make the electrical retailing industry attractive to entrepreneurs. The way we do that is by showing them that they’ll get a return on their investment, they’ll make a good living and they might have a bit of fun as well.

  • Image (top) left to right: techUK director of operations Paul Hide, AWE managing director Stuart Tickle, Daniel Todaro, managing director of Gekko, and Retra chief executive Howard Saycell