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Don’t Be Left Behind

Evolutionary Change Is The Best Answer

I received a call recently from a veteran kitchenware store operator who asked for my prediction on what the next five years had in store for the gourmet housewares business and its independent retailers.

That this store is heading toward a strong finish to a strong year didn’t assuage the owner’s palpable concern about the fate of independent retailers: That a strong economy is leaving behind such retailers as e-commerce gobbles up share of mind and share of dollars.

Independent storeowners face many questions these days without ready answers. The disruptive volatility of the marketplace can make it all but impossible to predict the next five weeks, let alone the next five years. Established business practice once counted on to cross generations is now best laid out in shorter spans.

The segment is confronted with the confounding challenge of how to be proactively different while remaining reliably the same — to layer responsive adaptability atop a foundation of tried-and-true business values and attributes that keeps the “special” in independent specialty retailers.

Most independent retailers don’t have the resources, the time and the luxury of attempting radical, revolutionary change at extraordinary risk. Few established businesses of any size and scope do.

What’s really needed is a more proactive, evolutionary approach, one that blends a voracious appetite for emerging retail concepts and technology culled from sharp market observation with the faithful embrace of the face-to-face, immersed independent philosophy to which the channel owes its distinction and longevity.

The urgency of a drastic overhaul that might be jarring to customers could be prevented in many cases by a more fluid, flexible approach to testing and implementing new ideas on a regular basis. Such adaptability takes full advantage of the independent specialty store’s intimate, containable scale. It becomes a distinguishing asset when blended with the custom selection, presentation and service at the core of the business.

Customers of independent retail establishments expect change, but they also crave personalized familiarity that is this class of trade’s specialty. The most satisfied customers often are those that feel they’ve been taken care of without overtly knowing how.

Yes, it’s best to prepare for more unexpected challenges, increasing competitive disruption and, at times, a mounting sense of urgency. Let that be a source of positive momentum, a catalyst to a more attentive, evolutionary approach to advancing your business through the next five years and beyond.

Nobody has all the answers. Asking questions often, though, could be the start of balanced change that helps strengthen what everyone loves about your business in the first place — and also what keeps you from being left behind.

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