Retail Focus: TV could do more to help fix UK retail

The FixerTV show, where I help Alex Polizzi to fix struggling family businesses, has once again come to a close for the year. I have given advice on many TV programmes over the years, but in each series of The Fixer I enjoy the close involvement with real businesses, where the emphasis is as much about real life business assistance and tangible results as it is about viewing figures.

In spite of their obvious benefits to business, reality TV shows have always been in the firing line for criticism, as at their core they cover peoples’ lives and challenges and inevitably capture individuals’ successes as well as failings. I think from a business angle though, these shows have a lot to offer the companies taking part and the viewing public – even if for the latter, they are just taking bite size pieces of best practice.

In The Fixer, like many other business improvement shows, we have only been helping businesses that are struggling; imagine though if we were to help to find, nurture and further build an already successful business. How great would it be if we could use a TV show to create a future high street national treasure?

The popular zeitgeist at the moment seems to be about pitching one business, craftsman, artist etc. against the other. Think The Pitch in the US or The Great Interior Design Challenge and Portrait Artist Of The Year in the UK, where participants take a brief and apply their craft/strategy. We could take a proven format like this and pitch three small but successful retail start-up businesses against one another.

Dragons’ Den this would not be, but a process where businesses would initially pitch their growth idea, concept and action plan to win one of three places on the show. Once in the show, they would trade for a set period with staged challenges with the help of a panel of expert advisors – marketing, financial and management experts. The winner by public or panel vote could win a year’s support of Government grant money or the like, to provide ongoing expert guidance and establish successful habits for the business to ensure that it goes on to be the success it should be. All three retailers would benefit hugely from the ongoing publicity and probably build brand evangelists and revenue along the way.

In many walks of business life, there are surges of small businesses being established, with no shortage of fledgling entrepreneurs that want to throw themselves and their exciting business concepts into the market. A Government package of support for expert consultancy, channelled into some of these winning ideas and businesses will minimise the percentage of failure. Perhaps this funding could even come from some of the now publicly owned banks? By setting these businesses up not to fail, taking their business plans and ideas and putting them to scrutiny, I believe that retail success would be the outcome.

A programme like this would be beneficial in so many ways. For example, David Cameron wants Britain to be the centre of excellence for dementia care, as he knows it’s going to make more money for the country in the long run. Creating what could be another stellar retail brand for the UK could also create jobs, tax revenue and perhaps even export opportunities and increased manufacturing. We could create other great brands like White Stuff, Joules or The White Company and unlock many more benefits across the country for shoppers, store staff and their many suppliers alike.

We need to celebrate and support great ideas and innovation more, and a show like this would demonstrate how the seed of a great idea could be nurtured to help regenerate the high street. The UK may be coming out of the recession with bigger and stronger brands, but are they that innovative and creative? Beyond the use of digital technology and improvements in customer service initiatives and cohesion in the context of ominichannel, we have yet to see flourishing innovation in new retail experiences that were abundant before the downturn.

Whilst a programme of this type would have TV appeal with jeopardy, human emotion and the all crucial journey, it would also have a tangible return – perhaps one new successful high street retailer for each season that the show runs. The Government’s Growth Accelerator programme has worked wonders for UK high growth businesses, and I think that what I’m suggesting could be as valuable, as whilst it will work on a smaller scale the learnings for other businesses will have enormous reach through the channel of popular TV. This would not be an ill-conceived investment like say (in my opinion) the Portas Pilot towns, this would be an outcome-driven innovation and investment vehicle for the good of retailers, their supply chains and the UK high street.

If you’d like to see what happened behind the scenes of this season’s The Fixer, visit: http://bit.ly/1JLch4H

Click here to read more of Karl’s regular monthly column pieces in Retail Focus magazine