Covid-19 News

Enough about tomorrow. What are we going to do today?

As expectation builds for a lifting of lockdown restrictions, we ask what should be done right now to protect the future…

I was chatting with Ed, when he suddenly said something that made me stop and think.

Ed works in our control room. We had been discussing some issues around how to support our clients as the Government restrictions on non-essential retail are lifted. The expectation is that stores will be reopening at the end of March.

Then Ed said, “Enough about tomorrow. What are we going to do today?”

Great question I thought, and one that is generally applicable to retail as well as how we are developing Amberstone…

Amberstone has put in place arrangements that will allow us to better support existing customers as well as accommodating those who will soon be joining us at a period of expansion. After all, when a business goes from £20M to £100M in a little under three years, the infrastructure needs to change too!

Over the last 12 months we have established two major offices. One in Livingston and another in Great Chesterford, which replaced the previous head office. And in anticipation of the possible complexities that Brexit would bring, we have furthered our German operation in advance of the final Brexit curtain being drawn at the end of this year.

We are increasingly supporting customers not just in the UK , but also across Europe. Having a German base means that we are a UK company successfully operating from within the EU. And with all that has happened I think that in itself is an achievement we can be proud of!

Of course the German operation provides our European clients with significant benefits. Supply chains are robust. We are not part of the border lottery as to whether hardware or personnel that are needed for a job to be completed on time – perhaps within a very narrow window of opportunity. Because we operate from within the EU we can eliminate the delays and administrative snafu that others are suffering to provide a smooth, timely service.

And talking of “service,” we have also worked hard during the last 24 months to produce a level of risk modelling that is unparalleled in the security industry. I have written before about our obsession with empirical data, modelling and real time analysis and this has certainly paid dividends.

For example, we have recently been tendering against a number of other security companies for a very large contract that is national across the UK. We have been able to offer a higher standard of service whilst, in a low margin industry, still offering almost a 20% reduction in costs. This is only possible because of our superior risk modelling and a greater awareness of precisely what resources are needed, where and when. Built in obsolescence is, well… obsolete!

But what about the high street? Some are suggesting that physical stores are soon to become “obsolete” too. I don’t think so…

There is no question about it. Physical retail must evolve to survive, and rapidly. I have written previously about how we have seen 8 years of retail development compressed into 8 months throughout the pandemic. However, most of that development has been in the online world. And when you see how some retailers have stepped up to the mark by significantly growing their online abilities it is deeply impressive. However, that is only half the story.

Here’s a personal example of why stores are not going away any time soon…

I was traveling to a meeting with a client. I was smartly turned out, cup of coffee in hand – I do love a good coffee! As I sipped my hot milky drink the lid came off the cup and the contents poured down my shirt. And with just 30 minutes to go before the meeting, I looked a wreck!

Casting about looking for a solution I ran to a shop looking for help, with a capital “H.” What do I find? Ted Baker! Now perhaps I am wrong here, but I do not usually associate that brand with clothing for middle aged former rugby players. But I am desperate, so I go inside and explain breathlessly what my problem is…

They are brilliant! The shop assistant finds a shirt in my size, irons it for me then and there, and puts the coffee-stained garment I had entered the store wearing in a plastic bag to go inside my briefcase. And as if that wasn’t enough, whilst I waited, they even bought me another coffee and playfully admonished me not to spill that one too. Blown away by the service provided I went to my meeting and all was well. And that’s why high street retail will survive…

It doesn’t matter how amazing technology becomes, it is unlikely to ever be able to provide the sort of individual and personal experience that I had on that day. And surely that is the future of high street retail. It has to offer that which cannot be offered online. And it has to do it on a predictable basis over and over and over again using human interaction at its core.

However, what goes on inside the stores is only part of the solution. If people can’t park, or fear for their safety, or are greeted by litter and poorly maintained infrastructure then guess what, they are not going to visit!

The high street needs to be reinvented now. It needs to become an attractive destination. Businesses, local authorities and homeless groups should all get together. Wardens should be outstanding. Shops well maintained. The pride of the local community in their high street should be palpable.

Being a place where people can shop is not going to save the high street. Being a place where people want to shop will. And structures capable of supporting this change already exist in the Third Sector in the form of the Business Improvement Districts as well as the Business Crime Reduction Partnerships.

The Government sees BIDs as an important part of the high street. Last year it pumped an additional £6.1M of emergency funding into them. The High Streets Minister, Simon Clarke MP, said “The Government has announced a comprehensive programme of support for businesses to help them deal with the economic impact caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and today we are extending that support to Business Improvement Districts. BIDs are uniquely placed and have a proven track record of success in supporting local businesses, empowering communities, championing our town centres and driving forward the renewal of our high streets.”

And then there are the Business Crime Reduction Partnerships. Amberstone, working with one of its large retailer clients, approached BCRP services as part of an overall total loss risk management strategy offering to pay for the client to the relevant BCRP directly. The quid pro quo was that the BCRPs liaised directly with us as the third party security provider around issues relevant to our client.

We use BCRP intelligence to allow us to make sure that we have the right resources in the right place and at the right time. And of course our client continues to benefit from intelligence that they otherwise would not have access to, perhaps even making the area less unattractive for criminals.

In summary the point is this. No matter how slick online operations become, they can never be a substitute for in person destination shopping experiences that delight shoppers. Online and physical stores can and should complement each other, not compete.

The opportunity is there. However, Ed’s right. We have to stop talking about tomorrow and take action today.

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