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We’ve seen a huge shift over the last few months in the way that businesses operate, from team structures to stock. So with lockdown slowly being lifted and many stores reopening, will independent retailers revert to pre-coronavirus operations, or is it worth going back to the roots of independent retail?
“Change requires a lever, and the recent situation has made companies review what they are doing,” Michael Boyle, managing director of Fresh Retail, tells us. “Many speciality retailers have grown into significant size operations, and with that came layers of management, red tape and a slight detour from what actually matters. This is a gift to step back as a business leader and think about why.”
It’s a fine balance, though. JP Then, founder of Slerp and Crosstown Collective, a collaboration of independent food suppliers in London, says it’s also about being innovative: “I think now is the time for retailers to try something new,” he says. “We’ve recently seen some non-essential businesses open for the first time in months, and understandably, much of the focus in communications has been that customers should expect a new experience as businesses continue to adhere to Government guidelines. Customers are open to change, so now is the time to find a system that is efficient for your business operationally.”
Taking time to reassess
The concept of going ‘back to basics’ is fairly open-ended, and many business owners will interpret it differently.
Edward Berry of The Flying Fork says the issue of stock is worth considering: “If you did diversify as an independent shop and started stocking basics – because, say, pasta was in shortage – do you stick with that or go back to independent origins, which is much more about provenance and local supply?”
Another key question is about your customers: “Because farm shops have scooped up a huge number of customers as supermarkets were out of stock, there’s been a massive opportunity,” Edward says. “The big challenge now is hanging onto new customers because, rest assured, supermarkets will fight back.”
Here is where opportunity lies for independents: where consumers are beginning to mistrust the big multiples, small retailers now have the chance to shout even louder about what sets them apart, from offering value for money and a personalised shopping experience, to strong communication and quality produce. By going back to the roots of independent fine food retail, many may also benefit from developing closer relationships with local producers and suppliers.
The customer journey
Communication and building trust with customers are increasingly important, as Michael explains: “Customers need to know that they can trust us to deliver what they want, safely. The changes people have made in a few short months to adapt to customer demand is fantastic; that’s what makes the industry so interesting.”
This customer journey is also a key factor in consumers choosing to shop with independent retailers, as Edward explains: “I hope people who have discovered independents will continue to support them. Supply chain [for multiples] has proven to be poor. Supermarkets have empty shelves, then you step outside and there’s a market stall with more fruit and veg than they know what to do with. If a deli or farm shop goes back to their business plan and looks at USPs, and has found that their basket size and income has grown, they’d be foolish not to look at that as well. Quality still has to be a big driver, too: that’s where independents take the upper hand.”
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