Passion, vision and delivery are key for independent retailers who get it right

October 2013

Back in January 2010 I wrote about a truly outstanding local retailer, Lindsay’s of Golspie, which is close to where I live. Nearly four years on and after countless successful and rewarding shopping trips since, I can report that my view is now even stronger. This is a local retail brand which gets it right because its offer is clear, relevant and superbly delivered. It’s clear because I know the sort of products I can buy there – everything from pots and pans, to tools, gardening stuff, gifts and even cycles – and it’s relevant because I can buy all these things locally without having a round trip of 120 miles to Inverness. And as for being superbly delivered, this is about depth and breadth of ranging, sensible prices and excellent customer service.

I started my career (nearly 40 years ago…) in retail and it remains very much in my heart. I love retailers which get it right – in particular when they’re an independent – and get grumpy when they don’t. Can it be so difficult? I don’t think it is when the person or people running the show have passion and a clear vision of what they want and, vitally, are happy to deliver it because they actually want to. Let me give you an example of the reverse of this…

A small garden centre not a million miles from me should, like Lindsay’s in Golspie, have a great offer because it’s also in a position to save local people a time wasting and costly trip to a big town or city. But it doesn’t: it’s rundown, has limited ranges and stock, and customer service is dubious because there isn’t the level of expertise on hand. Recently, I made a visit to this garden centre and found just one of the several products I’d gone in for, and as I looked for the others I noted the weeds growing in the outside display area where there should be blossoming plants. In fact the plant area was a tip in the same way it was the last time I visited, and the shop was barely any better. But what really hit home was where I found the owner when I wanted to ask if she had the products I wanted – sat behind the counter where she always is.

This of course begs the question why anyone who, patently, ‘can’t be bothered’ has ended up owning and running a retail outlet – or any business for that matter. She’s a nice enough person and friendly enough, but about as suited to retail as I am nuclear physics.

I’m currently working on an exciting project to help a design and marketing agency get up and running with their new high street consultancy business. When it launches, it will offer independent operators a host of services from traditional such as effective signage, point of sale and visual merchandising, through to cutting-edge digital like mobile apps. So the basic aim is all about giving independents on the high street something approaching the sort of expertise that the big national chains enjoy. But the one thing which won’t be on offer is psychology services which aim to instil a sense of passion, vision and a determination to deliver. Because if you don’t have those things in the first place then you’re in the wrong business.

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