South East Business Monitor Survey of Business Owners and Senior Decision Makers

Hot Topic Flashlight The Retail Sector
August 2009

About this research Key Messages

Retail (including motor and wholesale) accounts for a substantial part of the South East economy, with 83,000 SMEs, over half of which are shops Retailers have seen reductions in spend per customer during the recession, but not necessarily a drop in customer numbers The retail sector is confident for its future. About 3 in every 4 retailers feels ready to take advantage of the upturn, and is expecting to survive the recent difficult conditions Confidence is especially high among those with a website, a wide and/or loyal customer base, and wholesalers. The main challenges for retailers are responding to competition and improving staff skills. Skills gaps vary depending on the sector. Customer Service is a general skills need, while the Motor sector in particular points to Sales & Marketing skills gaps.

This paper focuses on the retail sector in the South East, including the motor trade and wholesale. There are around 83,000 retail SMEs (including sole traders) across the South East, employing around 567,000 people. More than half (56%) are in the "shops & stores" sub-sector.

Recession and Recovery
The retail sector has been affected similarly to all SMEs. 50% say they have been negatively affected by recession. Wholesalers and those in rural areas have suffered more (54%). Half (49%) are anticipating turnover growth in the coming 12 months, and 18% expect to take on staff in that period. Confidence of survival is high (78%), and retailers are more upbeat than other SMEs that they are poised for the economic recovery (72%). Attitudes to recession and recovery (%)
100 78 78 72 68


60 44 40



0 I feel confident that my business will survive the recession The recession will hit businesses in my sector particularly badly % of retail SMEs % of all SMEs I think my business is well placed to take advantage when the UK economy recovers

Source: South East Business Monitor, June-July 2009. Bases: xx

Those most confident for the future include: • Retail SMEs with a website • Those with loyal (repeat) customers • Wholesalers • Those with a wide customer base

Hot Topic Flashlight: The retail sector

Winning and keeping customers
These are highlights of the findings from the South East Business monitor. Every four months, at least 1,200 telephone interviews are conducted with business owners and senior decision makers of small and medium –sized enterprises (SMEs), based in the South East. This allows an ongoing “temperature check” of business issues and concerns. The survey results are weighted to reflect the size and structure of the region’s SME population. For the full Hot Topic Spotlight report on the Retail Sector, email:

Although only 24% of retailers have seen a drop in customer numbers over the past 12 months, 42% report lower spend by customers. Broadly, shops and stores have seen an increase in customers, with lower unit spend, while wholesalers and the motor trade have stable customer numbers, but lower unit spend. This could all result from the discounting activity which 53% of retailers have undertaken to respond to the downturn. Actions taken to respond to recession/ prepare for recovery
Retail SMEs (%) 53 46 44 43 36 31 20

Used discounts and sales to attract customers Used different methods of marketing or advertising Sought cheaper suppliers Invested in new or different types of stock Implemented waste management activities to cut costs Revised the business plan Trained staff or investigated training options

Other recent research reports include:
• • • • • • Home based businesses Green Opportunities for SMEs Credit & Cash Flow Stress in the Workplace Public Procurement Enterprise among the Over 55s Women’s Enterprise

Source: Business Link South East Business Monitor June-July 2009. Base: Retail SMEs= 360, All SMEs = 1,223.

The challenges facing retailers vary depending on whether the SME is part of a chain or wider group. For those that are, key challenges are; Responding to competition (65%), Improving staff performance/skills (64%), Reducing waste/improving energy efficiency (61%), developing management/leadership skills (46%) and recruiting skilled staff (40%). Main skills needs identified by retail SME owners to help their businesses grow vary by sub-sector: • Sales and marketing - esp for motor trade (48%) • Customer service for all sub-sectors (25%) • IT skills - especially for wholesalers (38%) • Finance/accounting esp for motor trade (27%) Business Link’s retail expert, Kerry Kyriacou says:

“This research shows a much more positive outlook from the retailers surveyed than we would expect during the current economic climate. These findings demonstrate the resilience of retail owners and their ability to adapt and change according to external economic influences. Business Link can help retailers identify areas of improvement, whether it be to attract more customers, increase the unit spend per customer or improve their stock turn. It is certainly worth retailers engaging with their local business adviser for a free business health check.”
For the full Retail Hot Topic Spotlight report email:

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