Putting the customer at the centre of everything

Putting the customer at the centre of everything

David Fitzsimons is full of energy, enthusiasm and excitement about the future of retail in Ireland. He’s ambitious for Retail Excellence’s 2000 plus members, businesses that range in size from small independents to large chains, from Applegreen to Zara, and from all sections of the retailing spectrum. He can see the wealth of opportunities that exist now that there’s some hint of certainty and political stability.

It’s a far cry from the ‘doom and gloom’ predictions of some in the sector. It’s an upbeat, can-do approach to retailing in Ireland that’s focused on potential to thrive rather than nosedive.

However as Group chief executive, David Fitzsimons is also a realist and pragmatist. There has been a dissipation in consumer sentiment, especially around ‘big ticket’ items. Consumer sentiment is a statistical measurement and economic indicator of the overall health of the economy as determined by consumer opinion. Consumer sentiment takes into account an individual’s feelings toward his or her current financial health, the health of the economy in the short-term and prospects for longer-term economic growth.

“Political instability and Brexit uncertainty undoubtedly had an impact, especially on those households where incomes rely on the export market to the UK. It seems we are now on the cusp of security, that a deal will be negotiated in a more managed and professional manner,” said David. “Retail Excellence will represent our members’ interests to government and state agencies on issues such as unfair increases in commercial rates. Then there’s insurance reform. Awards made in Ireland are way out of kilter with the UK. A ‘slip and trip’ is three times higher than the UK.

“There’s also the wider societal issue of town centre revival. Around 30 per cent of towns in the UK have turned their centres around. The reason is that they form legal partnerships with Councils and other agencies. They have created centres where there is a weekend experience that combines hospitality and retail with family time and events – places where people want to spend time. They are also places for mid-week top up,” explained David.

The Retail Excellence Summit in May 2020 will look at what’s been done elsewhere, providing case studies such as Dunfermline in Scotland, where the business improvement development plan helped rejuvenate and regenerate the town – by linking closely with the local council.

“Engaging with our local county councils to innovate change is vital,” said David. “Our county councils are traditionally good with routine requirements like street lighting and sewerage, but not when it comes to strategy, investment, retail and engaging with citizens. These are the skills that our county councils need to develop.”

However in general, the outlook for retailers is reasonably good, states David. A raft of inspirational speakers are lined up for this year’s Summit, from Dame Kelly Holmes to Mary Portas, the English retail consultant and broadcaster.

Retail Excellence is also working in partnership with a Cheltenham based research company called Echo Chamber on ‘Thought Leadership’. Each month a quality, easy to read report called ‘Need to Know’ will be made available to members, highlighting best retail practice and innovation around the globe. This is in additional to its membership magazine Retail Times.

The annual Retail Excellence Awards – set to take place on 7th November, showcase the best that Ireland has to offer. Keeping on top of everything new and happening in the retail sector globally is essential. To this end David will be attending Euroshop exhibition and trade fair in Dusseldorf from 16-19th February.

“It’s sensational. It covers every imaginable aspect of retailing,” he said.

As Group chief executive of Retail Excellence David’s role is focused on helping the retail sector in Ireland be the best that it can be. The retail leaders of today and tomorrow can benefit from the Management Development Programme.

For more information, visit retailexcellence.ie