Published on January 13th, 2017 | by The GC Team0
Support the local independent retail specialist – without them the future is bleak, says KBBG’s Bill Miller
Kitchen and bedroom furniture chain Betta Living collapsed into administration in November 2016. The Oldham-based company had created a strong, well-known national brand that was respected within the marketplace. Betta Living had expanded its store chain in the past few years, with revenues of around £16 million rising to around £50 million more recently, but rising occupational costs from newer space had pushed the company into a loss and left it with no option but to call in administrators. The demise of the chain has caused Bill Miller, Managing Director of the Kitchen Bathroom Buying Group, to reflect on the future of independent kitchen and bathroom specialists in the UK. He writes…
“Betta Living was a national retail chain, and with its 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.
“Consumer 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 reboot their relationships, working together in closer co-operation, whilst still maintaining their independence.
“The traditional business model, where the supplier simply delivers its 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 the parties remain independent but work in much closer co-operation in order to maximise the potential of both.
“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?