Did you watch the BBC television series Britain’s Next Big Thing earlier this year? The gist of the programmes was to get big retailers to hold open days and encourage new designers and craftspeople to show their products to the retail buyers.
The main lesson that I took from the series is that a retailer just cannot take too much care, time and trouble to source new and exciting products for his shop.
In the programme we were treated to seeing professional retail buying teams in action. The players included Liberty, Habitat and Boots. The retailers made a strong point of following up on products which they thought contained good potential to be a winner on their respective shop shelves.
Amongst the many valuable and interesting comments from the buyers was one from the chief buyer at Liberty. He said that his task was to go out of his way to seek out interesting, new and innovative products for his store. The problem was that everybody else from every other shop was doing exactly the same thing. And remember that this is a comment from a buyer with a multi-million pound buying budget. If he has a problem sourcing new, innovative and exclusive product then what hope does a small independent cookshop have? Well, plenty in my opinion!
The trouble taken to seek out and inspect new prospective suppliers did seem almost infinite. For example, the Liberty buyers travelled all the way from London to Argyle to view the pottery crafted by Scots potter Tom Hopkins-Gibson.
How could we possibly take so much time out of businesses to do something like that? This was television, after all – not the real world! Nevertheless, I do believe that the message of making time to scan and investigate for new product that will excite and interest our customers has to be put further up most retailers’ to-do lists.
An encouraging revelation was that Liberty was very conservative when it came to order quantities for its new-found ceramics, demonstrating just the kind of caution independent retailers would have to show in the event of ordering product that is very new and untested in their shops.
An advantage, though, for the independent is that it can make a buying decision whenever it feels ready, often based on gut feelings. Unlike the large retailers, who have to follow a rigid purchasing protocol of buying panels and obtaining permission from colleagues.
And this is what makes product buying so exciting for independents, which have far fewer hurdles to overcome.
The moral of the story?
Make more time for looking, searching and being ready to back up that hunch to buy when it feels right. You will always have to be prepared to take a few risks when it comes to keeping your shelves looking interesting and exciting, but this is the stuff that takes your business forward.