“It’s Been Pretty Poo!” Summarised Theo Paphitis Of Pandemic Life As A Retailer In His Keynote Speech At Spring Fair@Home

Never one to hold back on his views and always certain to draw a crowd, experienced retailer and entrepreneur Theo Paphitis did not disappoint when he took to the virtual stage at Spring Fair@Home yesterday (February 9) to share his ‘View from the top’.

In what proved a fast paced half hour keynote session, journalist Sasha Qadri questioned Theo about trading during the pandemic, what needs to be done to safeguard the UK’s high streets as well as putting forward questions submitted by the viewers to the digital platform, such as what advice he would give to start-up entrepreneurs.

Above: Journalist Sasha Qadri had a long list of questions for Theo that he rattled through answering.
Above: Journalist Sasha Qadri had a long list of questions for Theo that he rattled through answering.

Kicking off with how the last six months have been for him personally as well as in business, Theo scaled back the words he was going to use: “It’s been pretty poo!” he stated, adding that most viewers would likely be of the same opinion. Turning his mind back to the first lockdown alone, he said: “Having to shut 320 stores with only 24 to 36 hours’ notice – was like cutting off your oxygen supply,” said Theo, whose retailing empire includes Rymans, Robert Dyas and Boux Avenue.

Lifting the spirits with his pragmatic philosophy, the former ‘dragon’ on Dragons’ Den, quickly added: “These are unprecedented times and hopefully we’re coming to the end of it.”

Theo is in no doubt of that the dramatic expansion of e-commerce has been the major game changer in the retail scene over the last year. “We’ve seen a five-year acceleration in six months,” believes Theo. For retailers to survive without having a digital presence Theo feels “will be difficult” as “online is here to stay”.
While improving his retail businesses’ online presence is within his control, the main challenge to the health of the high street lies in the hands of the Government. Echoing the views held by the nation’s high street greeting card and gift retailers, Theo rammed home the necessity for a long overdue drastic overhaul of the business rates system, hoping this as well as the continuation of the business rates holiday is extended in the Budget that is being presented by Chancellor Rishi Sunak on March 3.
“Once the business rates are overhauled, I believe we will see a revitalised High Street that is more community-based,” stressed Theo, using a ‘cake’ analogy to demonstrate how High Street retailers are now losing larger slices of the ‘cake’ to online operators while having to pay the same in business rates.
When pressed for his opinion on the mooted 2% sales tax to be imposed on pure online players Theo accepted it would generate income and “could work as an emergency measure for two or three years” until a replacement for business rates have been sorted. “If nothing is done there will be a tsunami of shop closures,” he warns. “The key for retailers will be business rate reform, free market forces will take care of the rest,” he added.

Above: Theo joins the rally cry for a radical reform of business rates.
Above: Theo joins the rally cry for a radical reform of business rates.

Theo was reminded of something that he said during his talk at last year’s Spring Fair that there is no wrong time to start a business. “I still stick to that. Where there is uncertainty there are opportunities,” he said, highlighting how the online space “means you have the ability to reach your customer from your kitchen, your bedroom, your lounge. It’s all about finding a need and finding a product that the consumer customer wants. People are happy to change habits and adopt new habits,” believes Theo.

Above: Rymans is at least able to tap into sales for products for ‘home offices’ as well as for kids’ crafting items via its website.
Above: Rymans is at least able to tap into sales for products for ‘home offices’ as well as for kids’ crafting items via its website.

A champion of small businesses – as evidenced by his long running Small Business Sunday initiative – Theo says he remains impressed by the passion of small business owners. Stressing that with 50% of UK GDP coming from SMEs, Theo underlines how they are “a very important part of the recovery.”

Sharing his tips for those starting out with a new business Theo stressed the importance of “doing your homework” as well as making sure “you’re passionate about it”, otherwise in those dark times you’ll struggle.

In response to a question from the ‘floor’, about his tips for an independent high street retailer, reading the changing landscape, Theo says the “number one is to make sure you have a reason to exist” as well as making sure the way you interact with customers is how they want to. “If you do, you’ll keep them, if you don’t, they’ll go elsewhere.”

There was no doubt viewers to the Spring Fair@Home platform were all ears for what Theo had to say. The big hope is that Rishi Sunak was ‘listening’ and will share news greeting card high street retailers want to hear in his budget in a few weeks’ time.

Above: After the keynote, the Spring Fair@Home showcased some of the businesses which have been promoted by Theo’s Small Business Sunday, when he retweets some of his fave submissions from SME. These include Lizie Martell Illustration whose product range includes greeting cards.
Above: After the keynote, the Spring Fair@Home showcased some of the businesses which have been promoted by Theo’s Small Business Sunday, when he retweets some of his fave submissions from SME. These include Lizie Martell Illustration whose product range includes greeting cards.

Today (February 8) marks the official last day of Spring Fair@Home, but the talks continue until late this afternoon. For example, at 4.30pm The Revival Forecast: What is the Future of Retail? is a panel discussion, moderated by Mark Faithfull, editor of Retail Property Analyst involving Molly Park, design director of Papier; Bob Novogratz, co-founder of The Novogratz and Peter Cross, customer experience director of John Lewis.
All Spring Fair@Home talks, presentations and showcases are available on demand for some time. The Day 1 content, for example includes The Greetings and Stationery Showcase which saw brands including Ling Design, The Art File, Wrendale Design, Feather & Hare, Party Deco, Deckled Edge, Pink Pig, Middle Mouse, Sabivo Design, Vent for Change, RSW and Heart and Soul Studio launch their new collections.

Above: Wrendale Designs was among the companies to participate in the Greetings and Stationery Showcase at Spring Fair@Home.
Above: Wrendale Designs was among the companies to participate in the Greetings and Stationery Showcase at Spring Fair@Home.

Visit https://www.springfair.com/spring-fair-home-content-agenda to see the full agenda.

You’ll need to register to be able to access it though… https://www.springfair.com/spring-fair-home-registration

Top: Theo Paphitis was the keynote interview on Spring Fair@Home on February 9, interviewed by journalist Sasha Qadri.

 

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