TALKING SHOP: Collaboration’s what you need

17 Jun, 13

Founder of the FKBD, Garry Milligan says retailers should band together to market their businesses online

Internet use has been the source of much unrest and argument lately but there is one clear, inescapable fact: the internet is here to stay. Ignore this at your peril. There seems to be a fear of cyberspace among independent retail circles, and while there is some justification for this, as on-line retailers often offer very keen prices, there is also evidence of a widespread lack of understanding. Perhaps it is a combination of these factors which results in the negative attitude frequently displayed by traditional retailers.

Yet there is much to be gained from the internet and much to be positive about. The negative comments prevent many independent retailers from investigating how they can tap into on line potential, yet it is there to be embraced. When around 80% of consumers regularly use web sites and search engines for product research, how can the independent sector afford not to have a presence on line? Joined-up thinking The answer is of course in the question and the important word is afford.

We can all admire the web presence of the big national companies who have marketing budgets to produce fantastic web sites and who employ dedicated personnel to keep them high in search engine rankings. But this seems out of reach for a typical independent. Yet look at the numbers carefully. Divide the marketing spend between the number of outlets these giants operate and the cost per outlet becomes a more realistic figure.

Now suppose for a moment how it would be if we could approach this in reverse? Consider what might be achieved if several hundred independent retailers from around the country banded together and pooled their resources to provide a communal budget for web marketing? Aren’t the numbers starting to look a bit more palatable?

Of course it would never work. Independent retailers are competitive, they like to retain their own individual identity and do their own thing. They could never join together and co-operate, or could they? Given the right platform I believe they could. There is a clear common purpose, and that’s survival first and next progress and growth. In these times when funds are often scarce and marketing methods more sophisticated, independent retailers need to look beyond the conventional and embrace new ideas to survive and evolve.

In the past, independents have been promoted by manufacturers and distributors. Few have objected to having their firm listed by a manufacturer and promoted alongside rival dealers as a supplier of a particular brand. It’s a small leap of faith to extend that principal to being involved with an association which will present individual showrooms to consumers browsing the internet. There individuals can share in the brand identity but still remain entirely individual, while enjoying collective on line visibility. And in this way, the awareness could spread way beyond what could be justified as an individual marketing spend.