Positivity and opportunity at Embracing Change themed retra conference

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With a backdrop of much more financially optimistic times than 12 months ago, according to conference host Declan Curry, there was plenty to talk about at the retra annual industry conference at the Riverbank Park Plaza yesterday.

Retra president Shaun Barrett discussed some of the issues facing the industry, including shrinking margins and value downturns in areas of the market. There was also a look to the future, and the question was raised about whether manufacturers want or expect to have independent retailers in 5 years’ time.

It was unanimously agreed that change in the industry is ongoing, and faster than in previous years. The massive increases in online and multi-channel sales serve to support this. Independent retailers were encouraged to find ways to diversify, and embrace new approaches to adapt to changing consumer behaviour.

The advantages and opportunities for independents were also discussed at length. Consumers still want to be able to see and feel products, and the manufacturers’ panel was supportive of keeping this opportunity in place for consumers. The problem of ‘showrooming’ was also discussed, with a means on converting the “35% of customers who come in-store then leave and buy online” into commercial opportunities for retailers. On the subject of prices being undercut online, MD of T C Hayes, Tom Hayes commented: “You give me a level playing field, I’ll back myself against anybody. But if they’re £100 cheaper down the road, then what can I do?”

Online presence was given additional detail with a presentation from director of Search & Insight from Further Rob Welsby, discussing the changes to search engines to try and combat spamming techniques and support locality-based information. This should spell good news for local independents.

Nigel Catlow, GfK business group director for CE, pointed out some of the major opportunities for independent retailers. There is ongoing and predicted growth in areas such as floorcare and premium A/V which the independent retailer needs to take advantage of.

The idea of diversification was supported by the growth presented in small domestic appliances. The total market is now about 40% of the size of the CE market, yet independents only have less than 5% of a market share. With growth over the past year of 14%, this market could provide some welcome upturn for retailers willing to capitalise.

Steve Scogings of Stellisons also gave an account of how embracing a changing marketplace has allowed his business to grow, and hoped that others could learn from a forward thinking and positive approach.

More speakers and panellists gave their views on the industry, so look out for the detailed report on the retra conference in April’s issue of IER.

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