Be Like Water

At this year’s IGD Convenience retailing conference, the quest to find a balance between consistency and change was undertaken and the battle to strike a winning balance was fought.

I attended the event, where more than 400 of the convenience industry’s most influential thought-leaders gathered at 200 Aldersgate, just metres from where Tesco announced a pre-tax profit fall of 92% and the departure of Chairman Sir Richard Broadbent.

With discounters continuing to create a storm within the industry, and bearing responsibility for Tesco’s market share loss and subsequent poor results, Michael Freedman, Shopper Insight Manager at IGD posed the question – is convenience sheltered from the storm?

Taking a more optimistic approach to the industry, and focussing the spotlight specifically on the convenience channel, more independent stores opened last year than closed, with 432 stores opening in the last six months alone. Despite the fact that the convenience channel is still offering big growth opportunities, the message from the conference was clear – no retailer can stand still. With discounters encroaching on convenience, the industry needs to focus on delivering the right range and excellent value.

Understanding the shopper and their mission was a clear strategy for success delivered by the likes of Unilever, Kimberly-Clark, SPAR, BP and Shell. Shoppers are becoming increasingly savvy, demanding an ‘even more convenient’ solution. Klaas Manter, General Manager of Global Convenience Retail & Lubricants of Shell International introduced us to us a new generation of convenience-craving millennials, a demographic bracket, which I find myself sitting in. Pushing the boundaries of convenience into new realms, our demands are becoming increasingly challenging for retailers and manufacturers. In a world of multichannel retailing, shoppers want anything, anytime, anywhere and convenience retailers are under pressure to adapt faster and with greater agility to respond to those demands.

In a stimulating panel debate, where the battle between retailer and manufacturer came to fruition – Rav Garcher, Director of Spend ‘n’ Save, Nisa, gave a compelling message to the delegates in the room – quoting martial artist and philosopher Bruce Lee – ‘Be like Water’. Encouraging the industry to put provisions in place to ensure business adaptability and versatility, it certainly struck a chord with me. Speaking literally, water can take any form, a drop of rain or a huge disruptive wave from the ocean, and whatever format that water takes, the industry must learn to adapt. The industry must continue riding the storm, defending itself against the disruptive waves, whether that’s waves of the growing discounters or waves of increasingly demanding shoppers.

I will leave you with the quote from Bruce Lee, along with the question, whether we are retailers, manufacturers or marketeers, can we be better today than yesterday and stand out in a multichannel world?

“Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves. Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.” – Bruce Lee

Alexa Hopkins  

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