Bira’s Andrew Goodacre: “Now is the time to be curious and look for new opportunities”

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“Anyone involved with retail will say they are currently dealing with a toxic mix of rising business costs and lower sales income. Under these circumstances it can be difficult to focus on anything other than survival and cutting costs. That would be entirely appropriate. Yet, we also need to look at the possibility of growth in a recession – is it possible?

“Firstly, I would say that business owners have to overcome the fear of a recession – we can all talk ourselves down. Interestingly, in recessions, history tells us that brands with perceived quality and those offering real value do well. Recent Christmas sales figures support this trend and suggest that businesses caught ‘in the middle’ have fared worse. So, focus on quality and value at the same time for a winning combination.

“Also, retailers need to accept instability. The last three years have shown us that change and instability are the norm for high street businesses. I don’t think business owners can wait for a so-called better time to make changes. Now is the time to be curious and look for new opportunities – even if you don’t feel like it. A positive way is to become part of a like-minded community to share thoughts. The best high streets have all sorts of businesses working together to build something better, both now and for the future.

“Next, I would urge indie retailers to try and find new income streams, whether that’s through new products, new technology or new markets. This is not easy as it involves risk, but this risk can be mitigated by sharing ideas with customers, speaking to shoppers and simply looking at what is happening in the retail sector in general. Technology also cannot be ignored. Often technology can be daunting to the smaller retailer, and yet good use of simple technology can open up new markets and increase the customer base. Technology can also reduce costs and help us work a little bit more efficiently. Best of all, free training is still available through programmes such as BT Skills for Tomorrow (business.bt.com/why-choose-bt/skills-for-tomorrow/).

“Finally, and I know I have said this before, sustainability is still an opportunity. All the research is telling us that shoppers want to spend money with retailers who have good sustainability credentials. As a small retailer you can make small changes quickly and these will make a difference. Some changes will not be seen by the consumers (e.g. changing to LED lightbulbs), but the consumer does need to know that you are moving towards a more sustainable business model. We have been working with a concept called Green Street. It’s early days, but the general idea is to create streets and areas that will be known for sustainability. Bira is continuing to develop this idea.

“I genuinely believe that growth can be achieved, and at the very least, platforms can be laid that will make the business better in the future. I am also very aware of the immediate pressures faced by business. We continue to lobby government for more support to allow indie retailers to adapt and improve. Importantly, the government, like the high street, also must focus on growth in a recession.”