The Ripples MD looks at what the KBB industry needs to do to help retailers strengthen their showrooms in light of the launch of the Government’s Build Back Better High Streets paper, aimed at reviving Britain’s ailing high streets

The road to recovery A

s the dust is settling a bit on the horrors of 2020, the expected hangover has instead been replaced by the interiors industry going on the equivalent of a six-month bender. The question that pops up in pretty much every meeting I have attended is the same: “how long will it last?”.

We all know things will settle down and that hopefully the issues with the supply chain will be given a chance to catch up to restore some form of normality and that we can use our freshly-lubricated business to power into a prosperous 2022.

Independents can react to change quicker than any other sector. What we need though is a more cohesive strategy between manufacturers and retailers and we need this rapidly

The real discussion point, though, is not when things go back to normal, but what that normal will look like? If you believe the high street is dead, and it certainly is in decay, then it would be easy to fear the perceived threat will soon reach anyone who dares to believe that they can earn a living through retailing. It’s also easy to believe that, just because the consumer is migrating continually towards online purchasing, that our industry will go along with it. The real danger, though, is to believe that, as most of us [KBB showrooms] are not literally on a high street, we don’t need to pay attention to what is happening on it. That’s a fair point. However, the way I see it, under- standing who is left on the high street is as important as focusing on who has disappeared.

If you caught the episode of the excellent kbbreview Podcast with retail specialist Ian Scott, I hope you, like me, felt the blood pumping back through your veins? Or maybe you read the foreword from Boris Johnson in the Government’s white paper ‘Build Back Better High

Streets’, which was equally robust and positive. From all of this, we can take great solace in the fact that the independent sector is, and should always be, capable of reacting to change quicker than any other sector. It might not be as big, or as accessible, but it will always be creative, innovative, flexible, personable, authentic and, perhaps most importantly, local. These qualities are there for us all to exploit, and that is what we at Ripples are doing. What we need, though, is a more cohesive strategy formed between manufacturers and retailers and we need this rapidly. The starting point would be the acceptance that there is something wrong when many retailers seem to respect the brand values of the products they sell, more than the companies who make them. This manifests itself in huge variations in the quality of display presentation as well as, of course, the price those goods are offered at.

Customer experience

Contrary to popular belief, I believe it can be improved. Improved by a reality check that this is not a problem that must be left to suppliers alone, but one that is incumbent on us all to address if we are to earn the right to sell these specialist products. It is not enough to offer a design solution, stick manufacturer logos in our windows or rack up different brands all under one roof. We need to create an environment that is solely focused on the customer experience and one that adds value to the products we sell and doesn’t detract from it. For this to happen, we require leadership from those manufacturers and, yes, that is going to require some investment. Investment in their own showrooms, where needed, to set the benchmark for how the products should be sold through their chosen retailers. Plus product literature – print and digital – that is designed to inspire the customer to invest in it, and a plan to roll this out to their dealers. It requires learning about retail and employing people – like retail expert and kbbreview Podcast guest Ian Scott – to work with the sales and marketing team, and less shrugging of the shoulders when the subject is brought up.

It’s going to cost money, because showrooms that do not meet those brand guidelines should not be allowed to sell the product, or better still, should be educated and tasked with raising the standards in the way it is sold. I know this could be seen as naïve and I am also confident that these comments will go largely unheard by the people who are most capable of changing things. We can’t work on a strategy that tries to put the toothpaste back in the tube, but we can take a fresh look at what is required to protect the independent sector through cooperation, education, and investment. Then perhaps the party can go on a little longer.

• For more on the Government’s Build Back Better High Streets paper, see our analysis, pages 28-30

20 · October 2021

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