Perspectives

From The Co-Founders

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Strategic insights and commentary from The ROI Co-Founders, Pat Johnson and Dick Outcalt
Outcalt & Johnson: Retail Strategists LLC; Retail Turnaround Experts



ROI Co-Founders
ROI Co-Founders's Article
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As we emerge from the pandemics, many retailers are eager to grow. (How's that for an understatement?!)

  • For some, that simply means having a better year than 2019 (because 2020 was such a disaster), and they relish having survived.
  • Others are looking to expand by adding locations, whether by acquisition of existing stores, or taking advantage of vacated retail sites. 
  • Still others are focused on expanding their newly-established e-commerce capabilities. 
  • And, for some, still other imaginative ways.

Trade shows are opening up with great success and eager buyers. Landlords are eager to fill vacancies, and in many instances, to cut deals. Vendors are eager to quit thinking about supply chain problems and start selling their merchandise, especially at trade shows. Plus, the continued growth and expansion of online wholesale marketplaces makes far more product available to retailers. 

Then there is the access to capital. Lots of money is floating around out there

All in all, it creates an environment of exuberance. "Seize the opportunity" is the rallying cry. Indeed, for some retailers, FOMO – that Fear Of Missing Out – is pushing them to make some major decisions. 

As Amazon Prime Day approaches – it is June 21 and 22 this year, the earliest ever for this 48-hour promotional event – retailers from all segments are wondering (or being asked): "So, how do you compete with Amazon?"

Our response? You don't, at least not directly. 

Yet independent retailers do have many strategic advantages over Amazon. But you must recognize them, and enhance them at every opportunity. Here are some ideas that you may want to consider. 

Another real challenge of 2021 is rearing its head: Whatever you used to do in terms of managing your staff likely will not work this year. 

  • Not only are the owners exhausted from dealing with 2020, but so too are your employees.
  • What took the greatest toll? All the uncertainty for everybody.
  • Plus, many folks are revisiting their priorities: what is it really worth to them to work in retail? Especially given other choices they have become aware of.

In the aftermath of the pandemics, lockdowns, stimulus payments, low unemployment, and minimum wage increases, finding and keeping good employees is even more daunting for independent retailers.

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If 2020 was the year of pandemic disruption and scramble-to-survive mode for retailers, 2021 may be the year of relentless Retail Is Detail reminders.

Many of you may well have benefitted from one or more rounds of PPP loans and their potential "forgiveness." Now comes the reminders that you must seek forgiveness. In writing. From the bank that  loaned you the funds. And there are some time deadlines involved. Yikes.

Oh, and total forgiveness may not be forthcoming. It depends. (See below for these guides* and disclaimers from the SBA.)

Then there are the so-called "bookkeeping details" surrounding all this.

A few years ago we were on a PBS news show about retailing's ups and downs. Several months later, one of us ran into a teacher of one of our kids. That person excitedly mentioned having seen us on TV, saying "I didn't know you knew so much about retailing." (Yep, known just as someone's parent, right?)

But then this very well-educated person said the key thing: "I never knew there was so much to be known about retailing!"

Well, that incident happened a few years ago when retailing was perhaps more understandable, even more predictable. Alas, those days are history! Today, nothing in retailing is quite as understandable or as predictable as before. Or as manageable!

 

Many times during 2020 we spoke of "disruption with a capital D!"

And now, more than a third of the way through 2021, that Disruption with a capital D shows no signs of abating. Instead, it just keeps morphing (not unlike the Covid strains that keep emerging....) 

But the disruption that we see emerging is in the attitude,  deportment, and psyche of Millennials, and the many people who are now acting like Millennials. This is showing up in the attitude of shoppers as well as employees. 

 

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  • "Consumer confidence rose sharply for a second straight month, hitting the highest level since the pandemic began," according to the Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index. 
     
  • "Economists believe that the rising consumer confidence will bolster overall economic growth as consumers, who account for 70% of economic activity, step up their spending as lockdown restrictions are eased." *

This is welcome news for many retailers, as consumer confidence has been a key leading indicator of retail sales.

However, a note of caution: retail sales are not the sole component of consumer spending.

  • "As more businesses and cities reopen, consumers will have even more places to spend the savings they've accumulated during the pandemic." **

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We often caution that many vendors are so much better trained at selling than retailers are trained at buying. In their eagerness to grow sales, and the associated promise of thereby growing profits, it is all too easy for retailers to become overbought. Instead of higher profits, they can find themselves in a cash flow crunch.

And that was in Before Times, before the pandemics. Throughout 2020 and continuing now, vendors and retailers alike have increased their online capabilities. Ordering online brought new challenges to buyers and sales reps, but also saved time and improved access. 

We have applauded these advances in technology, but...