According to GA Chief Executive Isabel Martinson, many gift retailers are worried that they are being left behind when they read national newspaper headlines about the UK's so-called recovery.
The reality - as she discovered when talking to members at Home & Gift in Harrogate - is that bricks and mortar retailers are still finding life extremely tough.
"They're certainly not seeing any benefit yet, and in some cases it's knocking their confidence. They think that they're either buying the wrong stock or doing something else wrong when, in fact, they're probably not," comments Isabel. "Some sectors have being doing well but the public is still very cautious when it comes to spending on giftware."
She says that retailers are reassured when they're told that they're by no means in the minority as "what they read in the press doesn't chime with what's actually happening on the ground."
They also continue to be worried about business rates and are concerned about the effects of e-tailing on their stores. Also, many of those who are considering taking their businesses online mistakenly believe that it's a cheap option, failing to take into consideration the necessary investment in the platform, search engine optimisation and marketing.
"It's not as easy as first might appear," says Isabel. "Bricks and mortar retailers should remember that they still have a great advantage in that they're physically there with their product." Their fear, of course, is that potential buyers see a product that they like in-store and then go online to try to find it cheaper somewhere else.
"We recommend that they build up a following in their area by not only giving top-notch service but also offering a loyalty scheme - possibly using vouchers or cards which are stamped - to entice the public into their stores. It works very well for restaurants and coffee shops, so why not independent retailers? The reality is that all retailers have to do something or find product that differentiates them from their competition. "Meanwhile, good e-tailers are becoming stronger, while some bricks and mortar retailers have successfully introduced online selling. Our membership includes both. There's room for everyone."
Oliver Ashton, who heads up Jump! banged the drum for apprenticeships at the recent GA Members' Day, saying they were a great way to develop businesses and help young people into work. But Isabel Martinson fears that the efforts of apprenticeship organisations such as Jump! could be undermined if government funding for small businesses is no longer given at the start of an apprenticeship but at the end. She says, "A concern is that companies that no longer receive the money up front - which they need for cash flow purposes - will stop taking on apprentices. This isn't good for businesses, or people coming through, or Britain Plc. I raised this matter at the recent Trade Association Forum conference and suggested that the more trade associations that can get together to lobby against this move the better." GA Chairman Michael Papé, of Ravensden, who's in the process of hiring two apprentices, said that the government was introducing the change "to make sure employers keep their end of the bargain." But, he believed it could be "a disincentive to a small business that isn't necessarily as fortunate as we are in terms of needing the funding to take someone on."
GA is pipped for Best Website Award
The GA, a finalist in the Best Website category of the Trade Association Forum Awards, was pipped at the post when the presentations were made at St George's Hall in Liverpool.
Isabel says, "It was thrilling to be so highly ranked - especially when you consider that the Forum has more than 400 members drawn from all areas of business and commerce. This was tangible recognition of the investment The GA has made in technology in recent months and a tribute to the team which has worked so hard to give our members one of the very best websites around."
Talent spotters at Home & Gift
The GA's talent spotters were out and about at Home & Gift, talking to suppliers about product they might wish to enter in this year's GA Gift of the Year competition, which is launched at Autumn Fair. "Some exhibitors with fabulous items really did need convincing that they stood a chance in the competition," comments Isabel Martinson. "If you have strong product, entering is a great way to ensure that it'll be seen by judges who represent retailers such as John Lewis, and the publicity that winners receive definitely boosts sales."
Voucher benefit for subscribers
Retailers who became GA subscribers at Home & Gift were entitled to the member-to-member vouchers, which could be used to secure product discounts and other special offers being made at the show.
They were also able to sign up for full membership, receiving two years for the price of one, while suppliers were entitled to a 20 per cent discount on their first year of membership. The GA was delighted to welcome 12 new companies as members during the show and grow its subscribers by another 50 retailers.
The voucher scheme was widely trailed in the trade press and the show's Daily News and was particularly well received by GA retail members and subscribers, driving them to visit participating GA supplier members.
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