Consumer & Retail Sector Update – July 2023:
Last month our Head of Retail & Consumer Practice – Simon Nolan – hosted our bi-annual Consumer & Retail breakfast with KPMG. Guests included a mix of Chairs, NEDs and Executives from Consumer-facing listed, PE-backed and private companies which provided a great breadth of opinion and leadership insight. Under Chatham House rules, we tackled three topics during the few hours we spent together, and the key takeaways are summarised below:
Trading in the current environment
- Trading remains challenging. The two-pronged attack of high inflation and rising interest rates is reducing consumer ability – and appetite – to spend.
- In some areas sales numbers are holding up, but – once inflation has been accounted for – volumes are down. Consumers are receiving less for their money. Whilst ‘essential’ spending, particularly across the Grocery sub-sector, continues, discretionary purchases have been harder hit. Consumers have become much more value-led.
- With the decrease in market values, it’s an ideal time for investment in the sector. As investors will seek out opportunistic transactions that offer strong potential for growth and margin, there should be some healthy rewards for those prepared to take risks.
- As a side note, there was some interesting insight into the US market where some states have almost decriminalised shoplifting. This has led to major retailers, including Walmart, shutting stores in high crime areas due to excessive loss through theft.
The ESG agenda
- Companies that can transparently and honestly demonstrate their commitment to sustainability are more likely to enhance their brand, create differentiation and gain competitive advantage. They are also more likely to build resilience and long-term value by safeguarding against risk.
- Customers are now more engaged with ‘doing the right thing’ and conscious of the E&S impact of their buying decisions. A trend that will continue. A brand’s reputation for responsible ESG practices will help to drive customer loyalty and word-of-mouth. In some cases these customers will be willing to pay a premium on their purchases.
- Companies with robust ESG practices are more likely to attract and retain top talent. This is particularly applicable to Millennials and Gen Z’s who openly share their concern for social and environmental issues, and are more likely to join (and stay with) a business that aligns with their beliefs.
Building better Boards
- The operational challenges outlined above require a change of attitude and behaviour from leadership teams.
- Diversity of thinking can be lacking and this needs addressing. Businesses should be more willing to take advice from a diverse mix of people with different viewpoints and experiences. This enables more informed, balanced and creative decisions, which helps companies to handle complex challenges, and remain innovative and competitive.
- There can be a lack of ‘data and analytics’ capability within Boards. Data and analytics are revolutionising the sector, empowering businesses to make far more intelligent decisions across all facets including marketing, sales, product development, financial forecasting, and so on. All positively impact the customer experience. But some businesses are getting left behind. In an increasingly tough landscape, businesses should invest in boosting these capabilities to harness opportunities for business improvement, competitive advantage and growth.
- With a wealth of experience in the room from private, plc and PE backgrounds, our guests discussed the clarity of purpose that often comes from PE ownership. Private Equity investment often brings with it a more focused and disciplined approach – their expertise helps to shape a clear strategic plan with well-defined targets, and their strong incentive to drive success means they are involved in decision-making throughout the journey. In many cases our guests agreed that this leads to a more aligned, driven and positive working environment.
If you’d like further information on our credentials, or if we can assist you with a Board-level or senior management search requirement, please contact Simon on the details below.
Head of Retail & Consumer Practice