Learning from retail mistakes: Avoiding and overcoming the classic errors

Learning from retail mistakes: Avoiding and overcoming the classic errors

Mistakes are par for the course when setting up an indie retail business. Inside Retail has delved into the experiences of a range of independent retailers and the errors they made, and what they learned from them, to help prevent others falling victim to the same mistakes.

1) Be ruthless if a product is not selling

It does not matter how much you personally like a product. It is about whether your customers like it. If there is as product you love but it is not selling, then you should not hesitate in dumping it.

“One thing that is easy to fall into is being afraid of ditching a supplier and saying I might like the stuff but it is not selling enough to warrant being in the shop,” says Tabi Marsh, who runs the Heritage in Thornbury gift and coffee shop.

She advises avoiding emotion and “putting your numbers head on”. Marsh highlights how she introduced a line of copper and rose gold products, but had to ditch them when she realised that while they were in fashion in London, the trends in the capital are a couple of years ahead of Thornbury.

2) Be prepared to say no

As a small independent there is always the concern that it would be foolhardy to turn down any opportunity that comes your way. This can be the wrong attitude.

Melissa Hemsley of healthy food and lifestyle business Hemsley + Hemsley says when she and her sister were setting out they always felt grateful for any opportunity.

“We then got a bit savvier and thought maybe it is better to say no,” says Hemsley. “Maybe it was the right offer but not at the right time.”

She says they now listen more to their gut instinct and have come to learn if the opportunity does not “sit right” then it is probably the wrong course. “One thing I’ve learned is don’t burn out,” concludes Hemsley.

3) Take care over stock control

The old adage that ‘retail is detail’ remains as true today as it ever did. It is vital to take a forensic approach when ordering stock.

Forecasting amounts of seasonal stock can be especially hard to get right.

“At one point we were carrying stock of Mother’s Day cards that were years old and eventually we had to bin hundreds of them,” says Lindsey Adam, founder of the Bonkers gift stores in St Andrews and Edinburgh.

Lindsey advises to “keep it as tight as possible” when ordering seasonal products and she recommends asking suppliers if they will offer a ‘sale or exchange’ or a ‘sale or return’ deal.

4) Keep on top of your admin

The temptation to shove your receipts in a drawer to worry about later can often be too great.

However, as a business grows paperwork can swamp an indie retailer. Gina Brar, who runs an Indian occasion wear e-tailer, used to use her drawer as a makeshift filing system when she first started and warns “if you don’t keep on top of paperwork it takes over”.

Fortunately, there is now digital accounting software such as QuickBooks or Xero that makes it easier to stay on top of admin.

Brar also ensures she clears the decks each day by immediately dealing with invoices and emails otherwise “in the morning you think ‘oh God I have to deal with all of this’.”

5) Safeguard against the worst case scenario

There are countless things that are within your control but sometimes a disaster can strike that is out of your hands.

This does not mean you can not safeguard yourself against it though. When a fire broke out at a chip shop it spread to Marsh’s premises and burned down her coffee shop.

She wished she had longer business interruption insurance and had to scramble to get up and running before the insurance cover expired. She warns other business owners to check they have the right levels of cover.