“Bira has been warning for some time that high street retailers are facing a tsunami of business cost increases amid the cost of energy crisis. Energy is currently up by 250-300 per cent, rates by 100 per cent, labour costs up by 10 per cent and then there is supply chain inflation. Only the other week I discussed this with the business minister – and while there is sympathy, there is little action from the government.
“In management, there is a phrase: never waste a crisis. I think independent retailers, faced with the challenges outlined above, need to take that phrase to heart. The cost of energy will not reduce in the near future – if anything, it will likely increase even more. So, businesses now need to take steps to reduce their energy usage. Obvious I know, but the advantage of focusing on this area is that the retailer can also strengthen their own ‘green’ credentials and become part of the positive trend for retailing sustainably.
“But it’s not all gloom in retail and the drive towards sustainable retailing is becoming a real opportunity. I have spoken to several indie retailers recently about their approach to reducing their carbon footprint. And in reality, the retailer has to focus on areas they can control directly and then work with the supply chain to create further sustainable options and ultimately increase sales.
“Every business can reduce its costs from reducing staff hours to using low energy bulbs. There are grants and funds available to businesses to introduce energy saving changes into the premises. However, this is just the tip of iceberg (a suitable analogy for global warming!) as businesses need to review their opening hours, temperature control and other small actions that will collectively make a bigger difference.
“If you can combine the more efficient way of running your business with sustainable supply chains and products, I believe indies could be on to a winning retail offering. All the recent research suggests that consumers are more aware of environmental issues and want to make informed choices, especially when it comes to environmental impact. The large brands are already working hard and spending lots of money to present their ‘green side’. Indies do not need to spend lots of money to achieve the same thing because the local consumer will respond much quicker to strong local messaging on the high street.
“The sustainability message can also be enhanced by not using plastic in packaging. The plastic packaging tax will soon be with us. I do not expect this to impact on the smaller retailers, but steps taken to remove plastic would enhance the drive to sustainability. Many smaller retailers re-use packaging they have received from suppliers, which delivers a strong message to shoppers about the commitment to reducing carbon footprint.
“While we have a crisis with the cost of energy, we also have an opportunity with sustainable retailing. This is one of those occasions when short term action taken to address the crisis can enhance the longer-term business opportunity for increasing sales and profits. I do not wish to underplay the energy crisis – it is real and potentially very damaging. However, there is this opportunity to re-focus the business in line with consumer expectations and find a way of surviving and prospering.”