High profile businessman Theo Paphitis, who owns housewares and hardware chain Robert Dyas (along with stationer Ryman and lingerie retailer Boux Avenue), has shared his views on the current retail scene.
He said: “The market remains an extremely challenging one, evidenced by several corporate failures over the last 12 months, and is likely to be reflected in trading results across our sector.
“It has recently been reported in the press that the Treasury has turned its attention to the tidal waves impacting retail, particularly on our high streets. I would normally welcome this.
“However, I do wonder whether it is able to see beyond personal interests and conflicts to develop a more level playing field and improved job security for the vast number of people employed locally, serving customers in our communities? Will there be a ‘change of tide’? I doubt it.
“When I see ministers doing personal PR pieces in the Sunday press over the Christmas break, comparing their task to that of King Canute to make any meaningful difference to the horrific effects of the dramatic change in the retail landscape, I would say to them: “No, Minister you just need to do your job. And it’s as clear as the nose on your face that serious tax reforms are the answer for the greater good of the country and the people you purport to serve!”
“The handling of Brexit, with the disruption and uncertainty caused by one of the most important decisions in recent history, gives me little confidence in our government implementing any meaningful change, in the short to medium term.
“With time, retailers will – and are – striving to innovate, taking challenges in their stride. However, this will be more difficult if we continue to experience the political incompetence and arrogance that has become part of all our daily personal and business lives. The neglect from distracted politicians will ensure that the outlook will remain bleak.
“I would expect other retailers, without the financial strength that we have, to come under further pressure as the burden on them is set to increase, once again, next year. I’m afraid to say that I fail to see any signs that we will see a “strong and stable” approach to business in the near future.
“Robert Dyas and Boux Avenue performed more strongly online with growth of 36.7% and 21.4%, respectively. Robert Dyas has successfully developed its ranges and was able to build on growth delivered online earlier in the year.
“Footfall to key shopping centres has been disappointing, meaning competition amongst brands for customer spend was fierce. Whilst Ryman and Robert Dyas were able to deliver margins ahead of last year, which is very encouraging, this was a challenge for Boux Avenue.
“Black Friday has become a permanent fixture during peak trading and perhaps takes the edge away from the Christmas peak as we knew it. All of our brands ran offers through the week (as it has now become) leading up to Black Friday. We are pleased with the response we received from our customers.
“It was also great to see a new group initiative of a joint Robert Dyas and Ryman store launched last summer in Bexleyheath, enjoying its first Christmas as such, come in as one of our top performing stores in the period. This success has resulted in us now actively searching for further suitably sited stores to repeat this format.
“Despite my frustrations with the environment for doing business, I remain committed to all of our brands and will continue to invest in these as well as look for opportunities to extend the Group as appropriate.
“That being said, the approach will be a cautious one, due to the lack of confidence I have in our current political environment and economic policy, which prioritises power over fixing structural problems, leaving our economy in jeopardy.”