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Shops urged to innovate or die

Exeter Express and Echo

By Gordon Richardson

RETAILERS in Exeter have been warned to adapt to changing consumer trends or risk extinction.

Former Moss Bros chief executive Rowland Gee told an audience of independent traders in the city that the key to future success lies in delivering a good experience in store and online, and working together.

He highlighted figures showing that in the last four years 218 retail groups have gone bust, resulting in nearly 21,400 shops closing and more than 201,000 people losing their jobs.

“Those of us who are still in business must realise there is a future for us, but it’s up to us to be very good at it,” said Mr Gee. Urging retailers to “innovate or die”, he said: “You have got to simply address and face the realities of being an internet retailer – and if you are a bricks and mortar and an internet retailer, that’s actually the perfect combination.

“You only need to look at Next – in my opinion Britain’s best retailer. They are focused on what they are selling and to whom they are selling, and they are aware of the importance of the internet and social media.

“They are a wonderful large, successful business, but there are some wonderful little businesses, and some of them are right here in Exeter.”

He identified Sweetcheeks and The Cook’s Shop as examples of city businesses with the right formula.

Calling on independent retailers to join forces when it comes to marketing their areas, negotiating with landlords and lobbying councils, he said: “You actually have a lot of power, and you have lots of power when you work together.”

Mr Gee, who now runs the mentoring and skills matching service Grey4Gold, was speaking at a seminar hosted by BCR Associates and the National Skills Academy for Retail. The Government-funded academy plans to run more workshops in the city to help retailers raise their game and build successful businesses.

Area manager Claire Sutton explained that subsidised customer service training courses are available to help businesses gain WorldHost status. The internationally recognised programme was used to train thousands of staff and volunteers for the London Olympics.

“We are hoping different parts of Exeter, like Fore Street and South Street, will become official WorldHost destinations,” she said.

Also speaking at the event was Peter Thornton, former chairman of Thorntons, who stressed the importance of attractive window displays in triggering impulse purchases.