Talking Shop: The 3 Rs…of indie card retailing

David Robertson’s new education programme


Independent retailer David Robertson, co-owner of JP Pozzi in Elgin and Buckie in the Scottish Highlands, shares his take on the new 3Rs of retailing…

When my job as a teacher was to stand in front of a class of 30 pupils around 27 years ago, their parents’ priority was how their child was performing in the 3Rs – Reading, ’Riting and ’Rithmetic – this was then followed closely by the next question, which revolved around their little cherub behaving themselves.

The 3Rs, as they were called then, were a simple way of saying to concentrate on the basics.

All these years later education has undoubtably changed and schooling is as much about mental and physical health as it is about the core education, but what about the learnings in the business climate today?

Above: Some Pozzi-tive news as David Robertson was recently awarded the Scottish Local Retailer’s Newstrader Of The Year Award for his JP Pozzi newsagents’ business
Above: Some Pozzi-tive news as David Robertson was recently awarded the Scottish Local Retailer’s Newstrader Of The Year Award for his JP Pozzi newsagents’ business

Despite a more rounded approach to education today, many of the old school campaigners have championed a return to the basics of the 3Rs, claiming this would prepare pupils for the real world.

In my opinion the huge failing is that we don’t teach youngsters the true basics of how to study and learn. We expect them to know how to do these things, where in reality they may be foreign concepts to them and their families.

We need to give them the mechanics so they know how to learn a language or research history. Otherwise, it’s not learning, it is remembering. We have to encourage self-exploration and the ability to make mistakes and of course take great strides forward.

Running a business, be it as a retailer, greeting card publisher, or anything else for that matter, is again something that no lesson or book can teach you. A business is not a hobby, in my opinion, it’s something that, while fun, must be taken seriously.

Above: David’s own succession…Hudson Robertson
Above: David’s own succession…Hudson Robertson

The basics of setting up your store, finding stock, marketing, customer interaction, are perhaps the first steps, but there are so many other aspects that those are possibly the easy bits.

You can learn, read and study business but, until you’re actually doing it, none of it really matters. Every day you will be faced with challenges in dealing with people and events that never happen in the order of the text book.

There’s not a curriculum that can teach you how to do this, every day is a test and simply to pass is an achievement, never mind being able to excel – very few of us will be straight A students.

With this being the case, I want to introduce you all to my 3Rs. Or at least the 3Rs that have been at the forefront of my mind in these last few weeks. These are the traits and mindset I think you need to allow you to success and move forward…


The pace of what we do and the nature of running a retail or publisher operation is, at this time, pretty much all encompassing. The definition is ‘unceasingly intense’, which probably also describes the way we’re feeling.

We all have a tendency to keep going against all the challenges because, quite simply, if you’re the person that the buck stops with, you have no choice.

Since the early beginnings of 2020 all businesses have faced challenges in many years. Covid19 of course, spiralling inflation, rising interest rates, lack of staff, supply challenges, increased expectations of the public, another recession and the energy crisis. Yet we’re expected to cope with all of the aforementioned, taking it all in our stride and finding a way through and still make some money.

Above: Sarah Arnold Hall’s graphic resonates with David
Above: Sarah Arnold Hall’s graphic resonates with David

I know many people in our sector alone are understandably tired. They’ve fought and fought, yet things still remain very difficult. In many ways it feels like we are fighting to keep our heads above water.

This leads on to my second R…


If the pace is relentless, then the ability to recover quickly from each of the challenges and each of the knocks is without doubt crucial. So much emphasis is put on the idea that we should be able to cope with stress and challenges, but you have to be mentally, emotionally and physically in the right place for this to happen.

Resilience is something you build and improve over time. Going through the challenges and coming out the other side allows the brain to know it will be OK. That ability to keep calm, while right in the thick of things is a skill.

‘Thrives under pressure’ is a well-used saying yet, eventually, enough pressure can make anything crack.

My final R is what we all need to potentially do with our businesses at some point…


Covid19, we hope, is a once-in-a-lifetime event and many of us have adapted during these times. Zoom meetings, home deliveries, Facebook Live selling were just a few of the things we did to keep the lights on.

Now we may need to do that again to make ends meet. Not the same things of course so, as a business, we may need to:

  • Look at different product categories.
  • Work with new people (collabs).
  • Physically change our building(s) or maybe even move to a more manageable space.
  • Look at our operations.
  • Change our opening/business hours.

This list of possibilities could be much longer, but it really comes down to you and how much drive and fight you have left in you.

The energy cap announcement, patchy though it was, probably gives businesses six months to find their feet, then who knows what will happen. There’s been no VAT cut. In Scotland we have no ND rates support but, in real terms, this fiscal event gave small businesses very little. The maintaining of corporation tax means little to most SMEs who operate with perhaps one building and a small team of staff. We wanted and needed more.

So, what follows now? Well after R comes S and for me there are many options for the 3Ss.

Perhaps we could Shrink, Shut or Sell? All pretty negative.

Perhaps we could Solve, Share, Save? All pretty positive.

Above: David favours taking a helicopter view on your situation
Above: David favours taking a helicopter view on your situation

I recently attended a seminar called the 3Ss by Stuart Mason. His three Ss were Sell, Succeed or Succumb. In the chat he pointed out that simply putting your business up for sale is not enough. This would not end up with the best result. His figures suggested that 80% of people/businesses sold out for less than their businesses were worth. He also highlighted that three out of four regretted the sale quite quickly after the first flush of euphoria died away. He believes you need to actively work and plan a sale for a number of years but, in reality, many small businesses don’t, can’t or wouldn’t know where to start.

A clean break was also discussed with only a short handover which is not tied to the sale. Feeling you need to pass your baby on is totally understandable but, at the end of the day, once a price is agreed and locked in, your responsibility is not to clutch on to it because the next person will always do things differently.

His second S was to Succeed and this is, of course, best realised when you have family to carry on the legacy of what has been built. I know I have a deep-rooted fear of running our business without my mum. My dad’s role was a fairly functional one which could be learned and replicated with hard work. My mum’s contribution, though, is much more subtle. A lot of what she does is based on instinct and feeling – difficult things to learn.

The final S is to Succumb. Whether that means you exit through death or possibly having to close down again depends on the circumstances. In all cases there’s a degree of push-and-pull factor about the decisions.

Should we or shouldn’t we? What will I do if I sell? What can I achieve if I stay? With all of these questions it’s crucial that you, as the business person, have someone to speak to, to share the load and the burden, and ultimately help you make the right decision for yourself at that time.

Above: The Queen’s coffin-bearers had little room for error
Above: The Queen’s coffin-bearers had little room for error

In recent weeks I’ve made so many decisions, both short and long-term. that I’m unsure if they were correct or not, but at least I have made decisions. Dithering means withering and that’s only a few steps from dying away altogether. One tactic I use is to take the helicopter view – that’s when I withdraw from the situation and predict what the outcomes may be, by looking from above.

In these last few months, we’ve all seen the ultimate demonstration of both succession and succumbing. In September our Queen succumbed after 70 years of service and conducting her civic duty. The royal family and King Charles succeeded seamlessly, allowing our fantastic monarchy to continue, albeit in a different form perhaps.

Running a shop is an exceptionally difficult profession and, like the soldiers carrying our late monarch’s coffin in the funeral procession, there’s little room for error and a huge amount of pressure with the eyes of your community on you.

I know it can be difficult, but don’t forget the new 3 Rs…Relax, Recharge and Re-imagine.

*This article originally appeared in the October edition of Progressive Greetings magazine in which David writes a monthly column. The whole edition can be read online by clicking here. However, even better to receive a copy every month. You can subscribe online by clicking here.

Top: Above: The 3Rs were the focus of education, but will they need to be for the children of tomorrow?

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