Friday charivaria III – Australasia; tough times in retail

This from Moody’s news agency, pretty much simultaneous with RedGroup’s administration:

WH Smith names new regional operations chief

ASIA PACIFIC. WH Smith has named Craig Pring as Operations & Development Director for WH Smith Australia and the Pacific.

Pring joins WH Smith from Lagardère Services in Australia (previously known as Newslink) where he was responsible for the Australia and Pacific business, having previously held the role of Development Manager, and, prior to that, various operational positions. Pring will manage the WH Smith Australian operation and he will also be responsible for business development in the region.

WH Smith Travel Managing Director Simon Marinker said: “We are delighted to welcome Craig to the team as WH Smith develops its business in the region.”

WH Smith operates over 1000 stores worldwide – including 500 retail units in airports, railway stations, hospitals, workplaces and motorway service areas; with airport stores in Copenhagen, Stockholm, Dublin, Melbourne, Sydney (opening March), Delhi and Muscat, as well as a major presence throughout the UK.

As one door closes, another one opens?  You don’t need a long memory to remember that one of A&R’s previous (and quite recent) owners was WH Smith.

Meanwhile, Retail Week reports that Kate Swann has sold 27% of her shareholding in WH Smith.

Daily Mail typo alert: “WH Smith boss Kate Swann has sold almost a third of her holding in the high street retail chain as she cashed in shares worth a hefty £1.6m.  The retail boss, who kept the stationary firm’s profits on track despite falling sales…”  From the Mail website this morning.

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In the interests of cheering everyone up, Retail Gazette has the following story this morning:

Retail could see more insolvencies than any other sector in 2011, according to new a study from the Association of Business Recovery Professionals R3.

A poll of 300 insolvency professionals predicted that the number of corporate businesses collapsing in the next 12 months will rise by more than 1,000 year-on-year, with the retail and wholesale sectors particularly affected.

…31 per cent [of those polled] named retail & wholesale as the sector that will suffer most.  One of the main reasons financial industry professionals are predicting a gloomy outlook for the retail sector is last month’s VAT rise from 17.5 to 20 per cent, which when combined with other economic factors is starting to put huge pressure on consumer budgets.

As a weekend exercise, all of those associated with retailing – owners, employees, suppliers – might pause to consider where the next vulnerable sectors or companies might be.

Vulnerability in these uncertain times – as the music and book sectors have demonstrated – can result from:

  • New channels of competition (online, digitisation)
  • Cheaper traditional channels of competition (supermarkets, online again)
  • Ease of product substitution – and bear in mind that this may amount to more than replacing a £25 shirt with a £15 shirt.  Cancel the gym subscription and walk in the park.  Cancel the mini-break and spend time in the garden.
  • Cash squeeze – inflation is rising, unemployment is rising – which purchases are inessential?

All of this is fairly obvious, but there is stormy weather ahead.  How vulnerable is your product or service?  How can you reinforce its appeal, and ensure consumers treat it as an essential, rather than a luxury?  How are you distinguishing yourself from other businesses that are competing for the same share of your customers’ income?

This analysis of RedGroup’s failings, from Smart Company in Australia, offers an interesting series of questions and observations.

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Half term starts today, and those rose bushes won’t plant themselves.  The immediate outlook is challenging, but in the longer term, the opportunities are there for anyone who can see around the other side of a problem.  Good hunting!

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I am reading: The Morbid Age – Richard Overy (Penguin)

I am listening to: Beethoven 5 & 7 – Kleiber/VPO (DGG).  Oh, and selections by Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass

I am watching: all those BBC Four documentaries on US presidents.  Gave up on Sebastian Faulks