If we’d known then what we know now… @seriouslysofas 1 year after opening for #IndieRetail

Our blog ‘5 things to do when starting-up a UK retail business was published on 31st July 2011, rounding off Independent Retail Month. We’d hoped to galvanise those inspired by Independent Retail Month to follow in our footsteps.

The last 12 months have been an ‘experience’!  Here’s our retrospective view of……

5 things to do when starting-up a UK retail business

  1. Business planning & research
  2. Understand the maths
  3. Use your connections
  4. Listen to & respond to feedback
  5. Focus, focus, focus

Ok, our list is identical to last years but, with the benefit of hindsight, here’s what we’ve learnt:

Business planning and research

It proved essential to invest time and effort creating a credible, robust, realistic business plan.  Every time we’ve required finance – ranging from securing a lease; lines of credit; access to financing for customers – we’ve produced our business plan.

Securing a lease in a prime retail location, as is central Kingston upon Thames, was more competitive than we’d expected in this recession.  However, by demonstrating our professionalism through planning and research, we fended off established businesses to secure the lease.  We were told offering 0% credit (to compete with other furniture businesses) ‘wasn’t possible without at least 2 years trading history’.  It was achievable – thanks to research and our business plan.  The lesson?  Don’t be deterred.  And use the business plan.

Understand the maths

It’s fair to say we underestimated our start-up costs.  Do be aware that the rent bond (what you have to put down as a deposit) for a retail unit will be circa 6 months’ rent upfront and it incurs 20% VAT.  Negotiate a rent holiday to counterbalance this expenditure.

Invest in accounting software as soon as you start spending money.  We waited several months – a mistake.  Excel and manual records aren’t sufficient.  We’ve found SAGE One Accounts cheap, easy and efficient.  Constant input of transactions means cash flow, profit margins, and expenses are always on our minds.  Essential activity for a business to survive, let alone grow!  Also, obtain professional accountancy advice to guide you through tax and reporting.  Good advice from the bank and the solicitor meant we sourced local experts who knew the trading climate and advised accordingly.  We took an annual package to control our costs, only paying for expertise, as we handle day to day activities.  The lesson?  Money is hard earned, quickly spent.  Manage it carefully!

Use your connections…..

….and use their connections too.  We’ve networked successfully, using local trades and professionals, who happily introduce their contacts.  Social media, which we under-utilised initially, really works.  Don’t hesitate to ask for help, there’s a wealth of expertise out there.   Do be prepared to be proactive and be willing to try things.  Some initiatives work, some don’t.  Always reciprocate.  Oh, and keep your Twitter accounts separate, never mix business and personal tweets (something we’ve not always been great at).

Actually be should have also said “….and create new connections”.  Facebook has been great for us, as we’ve published photos of customer’s pieces.  Given our bespoke and customised range this has been useful developing our profile.  It helps that we’ve enjoyed customers ‘liking’ us.  Importantly we’ve enjoyed their repeat custom in addition to their referrals and recommendations.  Building connections becomes so much easier when others are willing to help.  Our tip?  Take time to say thanks, it costs nothing, and always discount by way of rewarding return business.

Listen to and respond to feedback

As we opened, Habitat (amongst others) went into administration.  This resulted in a number of jittery ‘could-be’ customers needing reassurance before buying from us.  We addressed concerns as appropriate, including encouraging purchases on credit cards so they’re properly insured.  We’ve been transparent about who we work with, offering visits to the UK manufacturer’s factory show rooms where necessary.

We’ve used satisfied customers as referees.   As a new business we’ve solicited feedback.  When it’s positive – great.  When it’s less so, we’ve responded, quickly and gracefully.

Having traded for 9 months we’re becoming well established locally.  We change the look of the shop regularly, moving products around.  We’ve changed and added products.  We happily sell pieces off the shop floor, offering discounts with immediate delivery.  This means that we can refresh pieces – often with identical pieces in new fabrics or colours.  We know what sells, what doesn’t.  If it doesn’t sell, we take it off the floor or reduce the price.  We know which suppliers are able to fulfil orders quickly and who won’t.  If a supplier lets us down, we address it with them.  Two strikes and they’re out.  We develop relationships with suppliers and customers creating trust and credibility.  Lessons learnt?  Communicate constantly.  Keep it fresh.  Offer what your customers want.

Focus, focus, focus

Or more appropriately ‘work, work, work’!  Yes, we’re focused, but we’re also hard working.  Be warned, it’s not easy building a business in this climate.  Retail is 7 days a week, whether or not you open each day.  Retail isn’t just about having a shop unit, it’s so much more.  This does mean thinking about online and/or trade opportunities.  Customers visiting the shop ask for details of our website or tell us they’ve already researched via our website.  Keeping the site up updated is as important as constantly remerchandising the shop.  Accurate, timely administration is essential for customer service, supplier relations and managing profit margins efficiently.  If someone wants to visit out of hours, requests a home visit, requires advice that involves putting in extra hours – do it.  If you don’t, someone else will.  The moral?  Work hard but have fun.  Enjoy!

About Seriously Sofas

Seriously Sofas are independent furniture retailers. We specialise in affordable quality, bespoke UK & customised European sofas, sofa beds, corner / modular units, chairs and accessories.  Provide your room sizes (drawing, plans etc.) and photos so we can really work with you to create exactly what you want in terms of size, style, finishing and comfort.

Twitter – @seriouslysofas         

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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One Response to If we’d known then what we know now… @seriouslysofas 1 year after opening for #IndieRetail

  1. Pingback: A blog-a-day for #IndieRetail | Clare Rayner: The Retail Champion

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