EDITORS COMMENT: State of independence

03 Jan, 14

Philippa Turrell says small independents will now face another challenge: the ‘national independents’

If 2013 was the year of ‘twerking’ and the ‘selfie’, then I predict the phrase of 2014 (in kbb terms anyway)  will be ‘national independent’. It’s pretty self-explanatory, really, it’s a multiple retailer with a network of boutique showrooms, ‘thinking global and acting local’ and looking to compete against owner operator businesses. Bathstore has used the phrase of national independent to describe its business, having extended its original design and supply service proposition to include fitting. Now with large merchant Grafton Group opening retail environments targeting top-end consumers, Bohen, what’s the betting it will also be how it describes its kitchen and bathroom retail business? Not to mention plumbing group Graham opening a more retail-inspired environment, and Better Bathrooms expanding its online business into four stores.

You get the service of an independent retailer, but can have the confidence in buying from a larger network, will be the claims of the ‘national independent’. While owner occupier businesses will decry the level of design, the quality of installation and ultimately the service and after-sales care. Different year, then, but same old story. But it does seem the multiples are now stepping up a gear, in retail terms, to snaffle the sale, as Bohen is targeting the high income, over 40s. It’s no longer a simple issue of lesser quality and discount sales.

It’s yet another challenge for the small independents, as the multiples with big pockets invest in top-level advertising campaigns from TV to radio, through to national consumer magazines. And dare I say, Bathstore and the newly-established Bohen brand developing an omni-channel approach can be no coincidence either. Using the advantages of one, a showroom to touch and experience the brand, with the convenience of the other 24-hour access on the internet, helps sweep up bathroom and kitchens sales and must surely now be the move for all accomplished retailers. Not necessarily e-commerce but perhaps ‘click and collect’ or booking a showroom visit.

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But is it all doom and gloom? Heck, no! The reality is a multiple retailer, although fast catching up, cannot offer the same level of service. They may have great people working for them, but they are not invested into the brand, they are not as committed to the business as an owner operator. Ultimately, they cannot offer that personal, no holds barred approach. But equally, independents shouldn’t be complacent and should learn lessons from how the multiples have improved their service and upped their retail game.