Independent retailers: It’s tough at the top


Daniel Todaro, Group Managing Director at Gekko, shares how retailers can collectively apply some innovative techniques to inspire more success.

When independent retailers are thinking about customers, store, product and marketing it can be overwhelming, let alone trying to apply innovative thinking to tried and tested strategies. I’ve consciously taken price out of the equation – we all know it’s impossible for independent retailers to compete on price with the behemoths like Amazon – so value for money, reflected in customers, store, product and marketing – not the cheapest should be the mantra of independent retailers. So how do independent retailers do this?

Let’s start with customers. Independent retailers should know their customers better than any multiple retailers ever can. Do you know what they are buying and when and if not, you should be seriously asking yourself why? And if you do know, are you fleet of foot enough to be agile with your merchandising strategy in order to stock the goods that your customers want?

Advanced technology solutions aren’t what’s needed here, your POS will be able to provide basic information about your customers and all you need to do is let your team do the talking and stalking.

Listen, talk to and watch your customers and learn from their behaviour. When was the last time you asked your customers what type of products they’d like to see in the shop? How would they improve the shop? Making the customer feel like it’s their shop is something the larger brands can never do – and use that to increase product sale through. And think about whether your customer service is worth bragging about! Remembering what your customers bought is the start of a rewarding relationship.

Do everything you can to turn your shop into a destination and take inspiration from what the larger brands are doing, especially in their concept stores. Your shop needs to be an enjoyable experience with an element of discovery every time your customers go there. You wouldn’t eat at the same restaurant multiple times if the menu never changed. If you are selling electrical goods, people want your expertise and experience to buy products they know will be fit for purpose.

Sell the solution and impart practical advice rather than just selling products in isolation. Obvious, but something an online experience can’t replicate. Make sure you know your products and the market and that you communicate this intimate knowledge to potential customers – they don’t know what they aren’t told – and provide an environment in which they feel welcome. Even if it’s a small shop, there’s still no reason why you can’t provide two chairs and a coffee machine to encourage people to sit down and discuss with you their needs – again, increasing sale through and customer loyalty.

And then there’s the marketing strategy, and I don’t just mean ‘brand’ – you all know that a consistent brand experience is important for brand re-call. This is where I think independent retailers have an opportunity to think bigger.

We asked 2,000 UK adults if they thought independent retailers should collaborate to come up with innovate ideas like sharing shop space and marketing costs to cut down on their individual overheads and 73 per cent thought it was a great idea. Every shop on the high street is in the same position, yet despite the current challenges each is still operating in silo.

Get to know your neighbours, seek collective advice and behave like a group rather than individual businesses. Collaborate to organise customer events as well as on marketing drives to reach a wider audience. Joint special events, discount schemes and offering a local delivery service and recycling throughout the year, not only at key times, will all help in developing your customer base.

Independent retailers are the beating heart of our communities and have a huge amount to offer. Collectively helping each other to apply some innovative techniques will hopefully improve the fortunes of many.

To find out more about Gekko, get in touch with Daniel Todaro at