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More trouble on the high street as Office Outlet undergoes a series of store closures, with 16 of their 90-strong estate closing during April with a loss of 167 jobs.

For those of us who have been in the industry a long time, the rise of the office superstore during the nineties and noughties was significant, with Office World as it then was and Staples going head to head for dominance.

Like any sector on the up, stores opened rapidly, tills rung and product assortments expanded as the business owners skilfully rode a wave of growth. Happy days. Until things started to change.

A shift in buying behaviour (e-commerce), competition from on-line retailers (Amazon) and changing working practices (mobile working) all threatened the viability of the office superstore model (big shed, big assortment, out of town).

Owners were slow to develop their own e-commerce propositions (omni-channel), they under-invested in their stores and, not surprisingly, store revenues declined.

With the right investment strategy, could the superstore proposition be revived? Think turning those large sheds into co-working spaces, with coffee shops, meeting rooms for mobile workers and remote sales forces – all with superb wi-fi and access to everything workers need to be productive.

Stores thrive on footfall, which comes when there’s a reason to visit. All retailers continue to try to find the ‘white space’ to the problem caused by the shift to digital. It’s not easy, yet not impossible.

A good example from the High Street is Whole Foods Market. It has reinvented food buying by making its stores a destination for food shopping, by tapping into the trend for organic food and by building communities around their stores through the number of eateries that prepare fresh food instore. It’s seriously impressive.

As our industry and our High Streets change around us, it’s a firm reminder that we must continually adapt our propositions, assortments and strategies to stay sustainable.

In his book Great by Choice, author Jim Collins writes about the concept of ‘Productive Paranoia’ in leaders: “By preparing ahead of time, building reserves, preserving a margin of safety, bounding risk, and honing their disciplines in good times and bad, they handle disruptions from a position of strength and flexibility.”

Well said. Let’s all do more of that.

See you out there.
Phil Jones MBE, Managing Director, Brother UK

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2018