‘Support the local independent retail specialist – without them the future’s bleak’

In Industry Comment, Industry News On

Retailers and suppliers can benefit from closer relationships, writes Kitchen Bathroom Buying Group (KBBG) managing director Bill Miller

The recent and sad demise of Betta Living got me thinking about the future of the independent kitchen and bathroom specialists in the UK. Betta Living was a national retail chain, and with their closure, there is an argument that this could lead to an increase in business for independent retailers, but I am not so sure this will actually happen. Why? Some independent retailers are just not good enough.

Bill Miller, Managing Director of the KBBG - hiConsumer expectations have significantly risen over recent years, and many independent retailers have been left behind. So much so that in some quarters of the national media there is a debate about whether the independent retailer is still relevant. My response is that there are some excellent UK independent kitchen and bathroom retailers who are the match of any business, but these are the exception. Many kitchen and bathroom retailers fail by delivering their customers a poor experience. As we enter uncertain times, leading up to the country’s exit from the EU, these kitchen and bathroom retailers will simply not survive.

None of us want to see a future landscape without the variety and expertise offered by independent kitchen and bathroom specialists, but hoping for a good outcome is not enough. Suppliers and retailers need to re-boot their relationships, working with them in closer co-operation, while still maintaining their independence. The traditional business model, where the supplier simply delivers their goods to the retailer, no-longer works. If independent retailers are not only to survive, but flourish over the next few years, then they are in urgent need of help. However, where is this help and support going to come from?

Since the successful launch of the Kitchen & Bathroom Buying Group (KBBG), just over two years ago, we have been working with independent retailers in order to help them develop their businesses, offering business advice, introducing new suppliers and the best possible buying terms.  However, we cannot do this alone. Suppliers need to be prepared to invest in their customer base to a far greater extent than they have in the past, not just financially, but with time helping retailers to present their products in the best possible way by utilising the very latest technology.

It’s essential to offer far greater levels of retailer training to help sell their products. Suppliers need to support retailers and to help them create the best possible website, advertising campaign and social media strategy, while also assisting with local marketing and consumer lead generation. I am not suggesting that some suppliers are not effectively doing some of these things, but it is very mixed.

For their part, retailers need to be open-minded about new ideas and to be prepared to try new strategies. Just because it worked for the last ten years doesn’t mean that it is still the best solution today. Independent retailers need to look beyond who is offering the cheapest price and rather look to the supplier who is going to give them the best level of support, advice and service.

I am not advocating a franchise-type relationship however, there are, I believe, some lessons that can be learned by creating a much closer business relationship between the supplier and the retailer. What I am proposing is what could be referred to as a ‘soft franchise’, where both parties remain independent, however, working in much closer co-operation in order to maximise the potential of both parties.

For some independent retailers, working with a buying group could well be the answer. However, for those who wish to go it alone, working in closer co-operation with their suppliers will be the only method to effectively grow and develop their business, to secure a future, and to continue to successfully serve their local communities for many years to come.

I welcome your views and would be interested to hear what other independent retailers think.

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