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Summer in the city centre

Received wisdom suggests that most sectors of retail – garden centres, B&Q and ice cream parlours apart – experience a bit of a lull during the summer months. That may not necessarily be the case though. A recent survey by Retail Eyes, which describes itself as ‘The UK’s leading customer experience improvement agency’, found that 64% of women loved to shop during the warm summer weather, as did 68% of men (3,908 UK consumers were polled, 2,629 women and 1,279 men).

The company’s marketing manager, Simon Boydell, commented: “This weather is fantastic for pulling in shoppers but competition is fierce on the High Street. Retailers need to do everything possible to make the most of this opportunity to boost sales now and in the future. Improving your customer experience through great service is the easiest and most effective way of attracting and retaining customers and driving up sales. Your staff are key to delivering this experience. Customers still enjoy and want interaction with staff and they will be one of the biggest representations of your brand. Ensure they’re well trained on expected standard of service… Customers must be made to feel welcome and valued from the minute they walk in the shop so they leave with a great impression to tell friends and family.”

It’s impossible to argue with that, but today’s successful retailer needs more than just well trained and motivated staff; he needs an overall vision for the store, with the right look, the right stock and – most importantly – he needs to make a profit. Love her or hate her, Mary Portas has done the UK’s independent retailers a great service over the last two years with her television series Mary Queen of Shops, in which she helps struggling store owners turn their businesses around. The most recent series, which has just ended on BBC2, saw her move outside her comfort zone of fashion and help stores in other retail sectors, demonstrating that good retailing is good retailing whatever is being sold.

Sadly she has yet to intervene in an adult store but I’m sure the producers will consider it in a future series. In the meantime, in conjunction with the National Skills Academy for Retail’s network of retail skills shops, she has developed a series of master classes for retailers which cover the key areas for success. The Mary Portas Guide to Successful Retailing promises to give a unique insight into improving independent retail businesses and includes Mary’s advice on essential elements like visual merchandising, marketing, buying, finance and that all-important vision for the store.

There are seven master classes and they will be running on numerous dates between July and November at 19 venues around the UK. The cost per session is £200+VAT and you can find out more by emailing [email protected] or visiting www.nsaforretail.com. I can’t comment on how effective they are but for Mary to put her name to them I would suggest they are at least worth a look. She has now become a brand in her own right, and I very much doubt – with her business nous – that she would do anything to diminish her reputation.

Proof of her iconic status is other companies ‘borrowing’ her name. A new retail consultancy was launched last month and its press release was headed: “‘Mary Queen of Shops’ style Retail & Leisure business launches in the West Midlands”. This new firm, called Wish, has no obvious connection to the Queen of Shops herself but it intends to ‘inject some much needed passion back into the UK High Street’ by offering retailers a range of services, including how to access funding. More information can be found at www.wish.co.uk if you are interested in learning more.

With the Queen of Shops television series, the new master classes and the mighty Google at your fingertips there has never been so much advice for retailers so readily available. So if you are one of those retailers who are experiencing a summer lull, now would seem to be an ideal time to seek assistance in readiness for the latter part of the year.