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Business spotlight: lightning-fast reactions key for retailers

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 30 Jun 2020

With her love of retail, accountancy experience and her own retail store RSM’s Jacqui Baker has valuable lessons to share for retailers looking to the future.

After 15 years at the Liverpool office of RSM, where she originally joined as a graduate, audit director Jacqui Baker has become a retail specialist. Her clients include retail and manufacturing businesses that range from large corporates to growing entrepreneurs. 

In 2019, she became one of those growing entrepreneurs with the launch of her own retail business, a womenswear boutique called Tabernam (Latin for shop). It’s based in the village of Taporley in Cheshire and run with her business partner Alicia Peacock. “We gel perfectly. She’s the creative one and I’ve got my eye on cashflow,” says Baker.

First-hand experience

With the experience of both disciplines Baker’s advice to her clients, especially within the north-west consumer markets group that she heads, has been invaluable during the coronavirus pandemic as retailers have strived to survive.

“Being able to share first-hand knowledge gives that extra something that not many people can give,” she says. “That’s been particularly important during the COVID-19 crisis since I’ve been able to give insight on measures such as rate grants, cutting orders, VAT deferrals and so on. I’ve been able to say: ‘here’s lots of things I’ve done in my business have you thought about doing the same?’”

Cutting orders for new seasons with the anticipation that discretionary spend is likely to be impacted as individuals move out of furlough to a less uncertain future; managing cashflow and going into sale at the right time to maintain margins will all be vital to retailers surviving, she says.

Life in lockdown

In such a volatile environment, continual adaptation is also key according to Baker. “It’s about making sure you are on your toes all the time and reacting as fast as you can,” she says. 

Within her own business, this has meant speaking to brands and suppliers to quickly get in the sort of stock customers were after as they adjusted to life in lockdown. “At the beginning, everyone wanted loungewear so we had to quickly find the routes to bring that in. When the weather picked up people wanted comfortable summer clothes for the garden. Now lockdown is easing they want nice summer dresses for garden parties,” she says. 

But her approach to selling has also had to change. “We don’t have a website, but we turned our attention heavily to social media, particularly Instagram, and it’s worked amazingly for us. We’ve been doing styling videos which we previously did once in a blue moon but are now doing two a week. Customers absolutely love it. They pick up the phone or message us and we have done a lot of home deliveries using the local post office or doorstep deliveries.”

Her store has now reopened with precautions in place and while she says that loyal customers have come out to support her footfall is quieter thanks to the fact that bars and cafes remain closed (at the time of writing. “We just aren’t getting those opportunistic sales at the moment,” she says. 

Being fleet of foot and listening to customers will be key for all retailers going forward, according to Baker. “It’s about trying to think how people’s spending habits are going to change. The market is going to shrink. We will have to accept that. How and where it’s going to shrink and what sort of brands and things will people want isn’t clear. It’s a guessing game.” 

In the meantime, she says survival for retailers is about collaboration, with suppliers, customers, landlords and brands. “We are in it together and have got to work together to keep retail going.”

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