Be a Brave Heart, Now is Your Time By John Stanley I recently experienced one of those strange weeks in retailing that occasionally occur. I was working with clients in the U.K. during the infamous 7/7 week in London. The week started with celebrations and confidence as Londoners realised they had won the 2012 Olympic Games and all that brings to retail businesses. The next day the city was in mourning after the worst attack on the city since World War II and retailers were wondering how they would survive. In the same week, two leading retailers announced a downturn in consumer spending and another downturn in their profits. A report came out showing supermarket visits by consumers had declined by 10% in three years, but one supermarket was seeing optimistic growth and convenience stores were noticing growth in that sector. You can appreciate why one of my clients asked how he was supposed to plan for the future in such a confusing and uncertain marketplace. Now is a Time to be Brave Londonï¿½s week was unique, but the overall roller coaster on trading is not unique to London; the feeling of consumers in this great city is mirrored across the globe in many countries. Consumers, I believe, feel insecure and jaded at present, mainly due to a rapidly changing world where the future seems less certain than it did a decade ago. The result of this is that consumers are saying give me one of two things, or I will leave your store. Give Me a Deal One thing customers are asking for is a deal, a price deal. The result of this was some London stores having sales of 75% off, plus the new Harry Potter book being launched with a recommended retail price of ï¿½16.99, yet one supermarket launched it at ï¿½4.95, when it is believed the wholesale price was around ï¿½7.00. This can only be a short-term strategy. If maintained, and consumers are trained to accept this as a norm, we will quickly reduce retail diversity. Give Me An Experience The busiest store in London I visited after the bombings was Hamleys; Britain and Europeï¿½s biggest toyshop. Harry Potter was in pride of place and selling briskly at ï¿½12.99. Batman dominated half the store, whilst customers ducked as inflatable flying saucers winged their way across the store. To avoid the mayhem, I ventured upstairs to be confronted by a Hamleys team member, who wanted to take a photo of me and place my face on a mug, a ï¿½mug on a mugï¿½ so to speak ….. My daughter, who was with me, summarised the experience: “You have to be mad to work here”. That wasnï¿½t mentioned in a negative way. If you want to make a difference in todayï¿½s retail jungle you need to be quirky mad, or be a brave heart. Being ï¿½boringly normalï¿½ means consumers will ignore you and your business. Some of you will say itï¿½s easy to be mad in a toy shop or for the Pikes Fish Marketï¿½s team in fish retailing in Seattle or Pete Luckettï¿½s team in food retailing in Halifax, Nova Scotia or Jim Bradleyï¿½s garden centre team in Mid Ulster Garden Centre in Northern Ireland. I say that you can go mad with any business, you just need to think outside the box ….. itï¿½s not the product, itï¿½s the way you approach retailing. Build a Brave Heart Team To be successful in the future, rather than just surviving, you need to review a number of business strategies. Firstly, do you have the culture to be successful? Does your team know where you want to take the business and do they want to come along for the ride? Secondly, are you recruiting for personality or for product knowledge? The customer would rather have a retail relationship with someone who cares, than a product bore who has no interest in them as a person. This means your recruitment process is critically important; you need to recruit people with personality and then train them in product knowledge; this will give them confidence. Provide empowerment and watch your average sales grow. The key to success is having a formula that works; many businesses let themselves down by not providing a structured and effective training programme. Where do You Start? Start by brainstorming at a management level what you need to do to provide ï¿½The Bestï¿½ experience in the consumersï¿½ eyes. I recently did this with a business and I was amazed at all the ideas that came out of a thirty minute session that could quickly and easily be introduced into the business. It is often easy to say ï¿½put yourself in the customersï¿½ shoesï¿½, but often more difficult to attain until you start thinking for the customer. Retailing competition will increase dramatically over the coming months and years as the best strive to be better. Retailers in todayï¿½s competitive climate need to be brave hearts to win the battles and the war.