By Robin Kamal
Last week I spoke to a solicitor friend who complained that his profession had changed, making it impossible for him, as a sole practitioner, to compete against larger firms. A week before, a watchmaker friend was almost in tears because a Swiss watch brand decided to pull out of his shop.
It occurred to me that both of my friends had one thing in common: over the last decade they had both done what they had always done, in the same way they had always done it. But they had failed to realise they were living in the midst of the internet revolution which has transformed methods of working and shopping. The world had changed but they had not.
In true Mary Queen of Shops style, I took my watchmaker friend to the Westfield Mall in London to have a look at some of the specialist watch retailers. As you would expect from someone who had not stepped out of his own shop for over a decade, he was a little overwhelmed by the millions spent on making the shopping experience just that: an experience.
By the time we sat down for a coffee he was even more depressed about his position, wondering how on earth an independent could compete against the slick multi-million pound national retailers.
We concluded that he was in his current position because of what he had done – rather what he had not done – which was to run his small shop. What he had not done was run a business.
He had immersed himself in the day-to-day drudgery of his shop and not taken the time out to look at his competitors and understand how the watch market had evolved. He had failed to think strategically.
Far be it for me to advise my independent colleagues on how to run their businesses, but every day I hear watch reps bemoaning the lack of credible independents that are proactive. Sure there are some great independent success stories, but why aren’t there more?
I understand the introduction of selective and exclusive distribution agreements has led to a culling of many independents from stocking fashion and Swiss brands, but as independents, if we do not step up to the mark, we are making ourselves targets for closure. Let’s give the watch distribution companies an alternative to the faceless nationals.
In return, we should all ask the Swiss and fashion watch distributors, many of which are looking to narrow their distribution, to look harder and to find and support independents that are doing a good job. It is in their own interest to have a range of quality independents as well as nationals.
As for my watchmaker friend? He is now spending money on a shop refit, investing in a website and bringing in new brands. He is thinking strategically and fighting back.