Given all the news headlines in recent months about the failing High Street and big brand bankruptcies on the one hand and Amazon’s record UK revenues and surging pandemic-fuelled online growth on the other, it would be tempting to conclude that ‘clicks’ has mortally wounded ‘bricks’.
But that would be premature. There are a good number of retailers out there that are proving immensely resilient, all with a ‘bricks’ back story but a more recent history of strong digital transformation and the enthusiastic pursuit of the new model ‘omni channel’ strategy. They share many traits – robust business management, a clear vision and above all, genuine retailing smarts. In a sector much diminished by non-specialist private equity owners, those at the top who truly understand retail operations and the customer experience, and have been open-minded to change, have been able to build up, rather than tear down, their empires.
Redcentric supports a number of these success stories. With a cloud, connectivity, communications and managed service portfolio that’s a great fit for organisations needing assured availability, resilience, robustness, flexibility and agility in equal measure; and with a long track record of being the reliable, trusted enabler of fairly intricate retail infrastructures, we know the impact and potential of what we do. In one sense, it’s very dull – a metronomic efficiency and reliability that just delivers and doesn’t cause any ripples. In another, it’s hugely exciting, as you’re a pivotal part of growth, expansion and innovation.
Let me share a couple of retail snapshots that perfectly highlight that spectrum while underlining the criticality of technology – and an IT partner – that you trust implicitly.
Kitchen giant Howdens has a network for 680+ depots across the UK as well as, 2 large factories, 2 warehouses and 4 corporate offices. Redcentric has been its preferred managed IT partner for a number of years, and the relationship has been founded on a joint commitment to the Howdens mantra that ‘IT will provide no barriers to business growth’.
Howdens has been able to pursue its growth strategy and service performance targets because of complete confidence not just in the stability and capacity of the Redcentric-delivered network; but in the fundamental quality and capability of us as a partner too. For example, Redcentric has been involved in nearly 400 new depot openings and not one single opening date has been missed. Because even the smallest dent in availability can have a big trading impact, we’ve done everything possible to mitigate issues: from performance tracking to get ahead of any connectivity problems before they impact negatively, to the addition of cellular service-based redundancy in case of broadband outages. With uptime and bandwidth assured, depots have been able to trade for longer, to do more in-depot CAD designs and virtual video-based customer consultations, to drive up service and satisfaction and ultimately grow revenues and profits.
Future planning is all based on this certainty of supply, this confidence not just in the enabling technology but the provider behind it.
Different retail sector, same story. Well Pharmacy is the largest independent pharmacy business and the third largest overall pharmacy chain in the UK. From its estate of 756 community pharmacies, Well dispenses prescriptions and deliver services such as flu jabs and during our relationship it has proven itself as a highly innovative, customer-centric specialist retailer. There’s been a strong track record of strategic vision accompanied by appropriate investment across its retail estate and back end IT systems – as with Howdens, it was very much a question of having the confidence in the partnership to execute on the plan.
A major network upgrade deploying SD-WAN has enhanced security, flexibility, and management; plus improved wi-fi performance across all sites and the introduction of Call2Teams for office-based staff, has improved internal communication, adding convenience, while saving money. The critical success factor for the project was the actual deployment – there could be no disruption to pharmacy operation or customer impact – and Redcentric’s abilities all around the technology, not just its pure technical knowhow, were again the differentiator. Well can continue to make bold IT choices secure in the knowledge that they have an IT delivery partner equal to their ambition.
Over the past year, coronavirus and all its attendant restrictions has obviously shone an intense spotlight on retailers’ online capability and capacity. As we plot a cautious path out of the pandemic, there’s no doubt that organisations will look to double down, consolidating advances in the ‘clicks’ sphere. But it would be wrong to think that it’s the only game in town. Some of the most successful retailers of recent times, like Dunelm, Ikea, Primark and The Body Shop, as well as most leading supermarkets of course, know the value of ‘bricks’; but they also understand that where/how people shop is only a small piece of the success jigsaw now: with the ubiquity of online operations, it’s no longer a real competitive advantage. Instead they’re looking at those retail perennials – product offering, online personal services, customer service and satisfaction, stock management and flow, customer acquisition and retention, and riding trends, with sustainability coming through on the latest eco-wave.
Their challenge is plotting all of that, and then making it happen. Technology will of course stay as the underlying enabler of much of it – from the agility of cloud to the acuity of data analytics – and as noted earlier you have to have confidence in that IT delivery capability. But for all of the talk of clicks and bricks, it’s really the ticks against plan that will count in the end.