24-25.qxp_Grid 26/03/2019 15:01 Page 2
OVER THE COUNTER
Telling Tales Independent card and gift retailer, David Robertson, co-owner of JP Pozzi in Scotland, highlights some of the clichés and hyberbole surrounding the current retail climate, many phrases finding their origins in Aesop and his fables. As a child I loved to read. I would devour books and comics as quickly as I could get my hands on them, and when I wasn’t reading I was listening to tapes of stories. This in turn led on to me playing with action figures, making up adventures, which again kept me amused. Endless hours spent storytelling (mostly to myself) is where I credit the ability to write and deliver the talks I give around the country. I love to tell a story - to pace it and plan it, and I love to embellish it with detail, usually way too much detail, but that is half the fun. Fun is something that we all need just now. There doesn’t seem that much about. I find it very interesting as I look around the retail sector at the minute. ‘If I am honest with you’ there are of course success stories and there are of course businesses with little or no costs that are thriving and exciting, but it feels like everyone else is finding it ‘really hard work’. If you subscribe to email updates such as Retail Gazette or indeed this magazine’s PGBuzz emailer, the news is more ‘challenging than encouraging’! The fact is we are facing ‘retail headwinds’ that we have perhaps never experienced before. In those last few sentences I have used several of the classic business clichés. In truth, I am beginning to annoy myself with these types of phrases and responses, yet 24
PROGRESSIVE GREETINGS WORLDWIDE
somehow or another they feel unavoidable as we face ‘unprecedented circumstances’ oops there I go again! So what are these figurative winds that we face? How do we get our ‘ducks in a row’? Rising business rates, falling footfall, weakening of the £pound, consumer debt, an ever-increasing living wage, fuel cost rises and consumer apathy are but a few of the issues that will test and try our businesses over the coming months. This is of course against the reputed lowest unemployment rate for years, a continuing low interest rate and the consumer having more access and choice to everything and anything including disposable income. So if this is true why is it so difficult for us all to get some of that cash into our tills? Well we know that people want less stuff and more experiences but that in itself can’t account for all the fall. So is there something else? We can’t of course touch on retail headwinds without mentioning Brexit. It looms large and ‘in truth I have lost all taste’, time and appetite for that discussion. As I pen this column there is no leadership, no real decisions being made and little or no real co-operation. The country feels rudderless and for the first time I am not sure where we are going. Is this really affecting our day-to-day buying decisions though? Is this stopping you
Above: The Oak and the Reed is one of Aesop's Fables, reminding us to bend with change. Below left: Aesop’s Fables and sayings have lasted the test of time.
and I at present running our business? Somehow I doubt it. Many of the clichés that we use in everyday life and especially in business can be traced back to a great storyteller - Aesop. His tales, as I am sure you can recall, actually gave birth to classic clichés such as ‘Pride comes before a fall’ and ‘A bird in the hand’. These stories date from 620 BC (around the time Mrs May tried to get her deal through first!) and even today they can fit many of the current situations in which we find ourselves. I wanted to explore a few and make a few suggestions to my fellow retailers, and indeed the publishers, in our industry as to how to survive. After all ‘one good turn deserves another’… Everyone says ‘we have to keep changing - we need to be flexible’. In Aesop’s story of the great oak and the reeds the great oak stands up to the winds tall and proud while the reeds move, bend and sway as the wind changes and gusts. Eventually the wind becomes too strong and the great oak is blown over while the reeds continue to bend, change and survive. In our industry we have tried it all - many card retailers have diversified into fashion, party, chocolate, jewellery and just about anything else. Cards pop up literally everywhere, from garages to florists and all points in between. For me though it is ‘quality not quantity’. The pure card shops out there are perhaps fewer and further apart than before and we are getting better at what we do. Card publishers too are innovating with paper engineering, new titles, different finishes and lots and lots of interesting design approaches. Cards are fashion-led. They