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Retailing in a recession

Posted in: Running a business
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Difficult times, even a deep recession, can still be an opportunity to win new customers and build on the loyalty of existing customers. But no-one said that it was going to be easy!

Just the word ‘recession’, with all of its negative connotations, is enough to strike fear into our minds, and being fearful is not a strong position to try to retail from.  So it’s worth tempering the word with a couple of pertinent facts:

  • Even in a recession 85% of the population are not directly affected. Yes,  hey may be indirectly affected by stories in the media, but their lives do not alter significantly.
  • Even in the deepest recession most businesses continue and many thrive.

So, how can you make sure that your business is one of the successful ones?

RetailHave a positive mental attitude

Firstly, you need boundless enthusiasm. You need to be open to new ideas, new areas of growth, the latest techniques; whether they are in sales or advertising, your trade or another. You need to have your eyes and your ears open for opportunity.

Doing what you’ve always done is not only the definition of insanity but will get you the results you’ve always had. For better results you have to try new things.

So much of retail is mindset, and a positive mindset will see you actively seeking opportunities.  If, like me, you’re a fan of the Mary Portas and Alex Polizzi retail turnaround programmes then you’ll have noticed that the opportunities that the revamped stores are taking advantage of at the end of the programme were always there and available to them, but the business owners were so blindsided and mired by their own situation that they just weren’t in a position to see them, never mind exploit them.

Try new things

If you stock other brands than your own, a selection of known and trusted brands are vital for establishing your stores positioning. Beyond that, have a bit of fun with some quirkier, ‘wildcard’ brands, and even a dabble with them can produce unforeseen results.

Get out and about

In a compacting economy it’s harder to justify a trip to a trade show or a showroom, but days out of the store are often where you get inspired.  Jim Rohn famously remarked that “rarely does a good idea interrupt you; you have to go looking for it”.  We’ve all had game changing moments in our businesses, but rarely on a rainy Tuesday morning behind the counter!  So get out, get some perspective and keep an open mind.

Be media friendly

I’m not a big fan of advertising, as I have found that editorial carries so much more weight than an advert. To gain editorial in an advertising driven publication you need to have a good back story, pertinent facts about your industry or town, or a topical point of view to add to the discussion.

When you are considering advertising, think outside the box. Running a competition, for example in partnership with a local or national magazine, can yield unexpected results in terms of enquiries. An added bonus is that often you’ll end up with a list of consumers who were interested in your products and have agreed for their details to be passed onto you.

Team up with other businesses

One practice that is consistently under-rated is to team up with another business owner and hold each other accountable for the changes you want to make in your businesses. It helps to have someone in a different market to your own, as you can learn, mix skillsets and see each other’s best practices.  By its very nature independent retail is an isolated trade, so having a small number of other store owners you can meet up to discuss issues you are facing can be a real help.

Focus your attention

One of the side effects of the new economy has been the need to do more and more with less and less. Resources are suddenly more limited and the need to get the maximum return on your resources is paramount.  The key is to target any initiatives at those parts of the business with the most potential. Focus on just a couple of areas for growth and remember that simplicity is always the key.

Rachel Parkin, is the owner and Creative Director of the Balagan Group, a jewellery design and wholsesale business. Rachel is also the owner of two retail stores; a boutique and a contemporary jeweller. She is also the founder of Retailrehab, which assists & supports independent retailers by creating a resource for sales generating ideas and best practice.

Posted in: Running a business
22 comment


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  • Jeremy Corner

    Great blog post, Rachel. I agree about having a positive attitude and adapting to change. This is definitely a time to get back to basics and tune into your customers and ask yourself if you are still pitching the business in the right way.

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