What is an independent retailer?

With the announcement of the arrival of Independent Retailer Month to the UK from the USA I’ve been reflecting on the differences between the retail sector in these 2 countries. I’ve been asking myself “What is an independent retailer” – in the UK the boundaries are a bit more blurry it seems than in the USA…

Celebrating Independent Retail in the UK – of all shapes and sizes!

In the UK we have small, medium and large retailers – some independent, some not. In the USA it seems that they have small and vast. OK, a minor difference, but when I compare the way the USA present their campaign “Break the chain store habit” it is a very different emotion / motivator than the way I chose to present the UK campaign.

Speaking to Kerry, who fronts the USA & Global Independent Retailer Month messaging, I completely understand that the USA retail sector seems to be very much a David and Goliath model. I find that very sad to be honest as I love the the fact that here in the UK it is a bit more vague! I love that we have major high street retailers such as Clarks, Wilkinson, Specsavers who are arguably all still independent family owned retail businesses even if between them they report:

  • Specsavers: £1.36billion turnover, 1422 stores, c. 26,000 employees…
  • Clarks: £1.17 billion turnover, 554 stores, c. 13, 364 employees…
  • Wilkinson: £1.56 billion turnover, 337 stores, 23,384 employees…

However, independent retailer month is not really about the big brand. It is about drawing attention to the group of SME independent retailers who haven’t yet achieved these heady-heights of success. It is about giving them a boost, celebrating the part they play and encouraging them to one day be as relevant a contributor to the economy as my 3 examples above.

Independent Retailer Month – Celebrating Independent Retail

So, in terms of who Independent Retailer Month is “for” obviously it goes without saying we welcome the support of ALL retailers, but, the key organisations that we want to draw attention to I would describe as SME Independents.

There is a very fine line it has to be said – and having been chatting with Jacqueline Gold (CEO of Ann Summers, another Independent Retailer) last evening I’ve decided to write my own definitions…

Small Independent Retailers are…

… Businesses with very few retail outlets, usually a single store, with no head quarters or centralised management. Owner-operated and usually run from the shop (or from one of the shops where there are many), these retailers are those that Independent Retailer Month really want to shout about. We believe these retailers are the next generation of larger businesses, who provide diversity and variety to the high street, employment, support the local community and are crucially the primary route to market for a wide range of local, independent producers / designers.

Large Independent Retailers are…

… the smaller players, grown up! Whilst still privately owned these retailers have outgrown the model above. They will now have a centralised management team, who have some delegated responsibilities for budgetary spending and decision making (i.e. it isn’t all under the control of the owner) and usually a head office. We really hope that these retailers will still support the campaign to celebrate independent retail (this is where they have grown from), however, it is fair to say they are (in the most part) doing very nicely and won’t necessarily need / benefit from the campaign!

Multiple Retailers are…

… technically any retail operation with a store portfolio that requires centralised management (large independents may also be multiples). This group also includes publicly quoted (not independent) retailers.

Non-independent retailers are…

… publicly quoted companies, traded on a stock exchange. These businesses may have once been independent retailers who have decided to go public, usually because they are multiples. Decisions are made by an appointed board of directors, not by an owner, and decisions are taken in the interest of the shareholders.

These retailers aren’t the focus for Indepdendent Retailer Month – whilst I personally applaud their success, their contribution to the sector and the value-add to the UK economy, quite simply we have to draw the line somewhere and the clue was in the title!

If you are an independent retailer, get involved!

So, to sum up, Independent Retailer Month is about celebrating independent retail. The objective is to give a boost to the smallest retail businesses in the hope that they will grow to become as successful as our larger independents.

If you are an independent retailer, of any size, please show your support for the sector and get involved in some way! For ideas, news, background and updates see www.independentretailermonth.co.uk – spread the word!

Lets make some noise this July and really showcase the diversity and creativity of our small, independent retailers! 🙂

About Clare Bailey

Clare Bailey, The Retail Champion (formerly Clare Rayner), is one of the most well-known and respected retail experts in the UK. With unrivalled knowledge in retail, high streets and consumer matters, she offers unbiased, independent content – whether engaged as a professional speaker, for broadcast media, or for a written feature. Clare is a business woman, entrepreneur and founder of several small businesses. Having been born into a family of successful business owners, it was inevitable that she’d eventually jump off the corporate treadmill and step out on her own! Today her brand portfolio includes The Retail Champion, The Retail Conference, the Future High Street Summit and the Support for Independent Retail campaign. In addition, she is co-founder of Mobaro Retail UK and a non-exec director of Beed Virtual Assistant Services. Having started her career as a fast-track store management trainee for McDonalds, she went on to work with leading retailers such as M&S, Dixons and Argos. She moved swiftly into management roles before being headhunted into senior consulting roles with global software giant SAP, and international management consulting brand, Accenture. Her corporate background in senior retail, consulting and technology roles, coupled with her experience of creating and running her own business, has enabled her to be equally capable whether consulting to global brands or micro businesses. This unique blend has not only positioned her as a leading expert in all things retail, but has enabled her to add meaningful commentary and insight to the debate around the future of the high street, and, how technology is driving fundamental change in the way consumers, and businesses, interact. Clare has become an influential voice in her field, which has resulted in her becoming a regular media contributor and sought-after conference speaker. Often seen on Good Morning Britain, BBC Breakfast, Sky News, and Chanel 5 (to name a few), Clare speaks on a myriad of retail, high street and consumer issues – but is particular adept when it comes to explaining the context behind retail trading results, newly released data, and government stats, in a palatable and informative manner. In addition to broadcast and conference speaking, Clare is the proud author of two best-selling business books published by Kogan Page - The Retail Champion: 10 Steps to Retail Success, published July 2012 and How to Sell to Retail: The Secrets of Getting Your Product to Market, published February 2013. She has provided contributions to various academic texts, including Retail Marketing Management (published by Pearson). With an engaging, conversational yet informative style, Clare writes for press and content agencies, providing features, articles, blogs and opinion pieces as well as contributions to white papers and reports. However, when the situation demands a more serious style, Clare can deliver - In 2016 she wrote an extensive report for a major insurance and risk law firm, as a retail expert witness, to support a public liability suit. She found that project particularly enjoyable as it played well to her strengths – assimilating large amounts of data and information, identifying the key points and articulating that in an understandable manner. When not on TV or speaking at conferences, Clare’s “day job” sees her supporting consumer-facing businesses through her consultancy services. When asked to describe what she most loves about retail consulting it is typically the opportunity to “dig deep”, getting “under the bonnet”, in order to leverage the business data to uncover the insights that lead to “lightbulb moments”. She also loves working on business change programmes that centre on improving the processes and systems to increase profitability by supporting more rapid, better informed decision making, improving the customer experience, or simply by become more efficient and streamlined. In this respect she considers herself a “business engineer” with a brain that works like a relational database! Due to her years of experience, her logical, objective approach, her quick, rational thinking, she is known for being able to cut through complexity, seeing right through to the crux of issues, finding creative solutions that others may have overlooked. As if all that wasn’t enough, Clare is a working mum, juggling a home life in rural Lincolnshire with her partner, their 5 kids, 4 cats, and geriatric Labrador! For all enquiries, contact Clare directly on 01727 238890 or email champion@retailchampion.co.uk.
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5 Responses to What is an independent retailer?

  1. UniqueOxford says:

    Fascinating article and a quandary we have been wrestling with for some time – especially when it comes to the level of franchises, which some would argue are local and independent, though we disagree. In the end, we took some inspiration from the 3/50 Project in America as well as researching what the various business guides and dictionaries say, and then we came to the conclusion that the most important thing is about trying to have a level playing field. So, your explanation and definitions above meld pretty well with what we think.

    You summarised it excellently when you wrote that small independent retailers “provide diversity and variety to the high street, employment, support the local community and are crucially the primary route to market for a wide range of local, independent producers / designers.” Sounds great, doesn’t it?

    Good luck with the Independent Retail Month, we shall be following it with avid interest. Oxford is a great city with some amazing indies, but the growing dominance of the high street chains, combined with a less than supportive local authority and unsupportive University colleges, has all combined to make it difficult for the businesses that make Oxford genuinely unique to survive. We hope that people are becoming more aware of the hidden costs of the chains and the risks we all face if the small, independent sector shrinks too much.

  2. where do the independent retailers that only trade on line fit into Independent Retail month?

    • Clare Rayner says:

      Absolutely welcomed – this feature is from last year, if you read the blog from yesterday – https://retailchampion.wordpress.com/2012/06/13/independent-retailer-month-2012/ – , all about this year, then our position is inclusive “ANY Independent business that serves consumers – be they online only, market trader, shop-based or multi-channel – can take advantage of this global “shop local” campaign. Consumer facing businesses are encouraged to run events, promotions and activities throughout July to celebrate, with their customers, what they offer to their local community.”

  3. Pingback: How many independent retailers are there in the UK? #indieretail | Independent Retail

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