Retailers urged to maintain continuity when expanding abroad

The in-store experience is as critical for a retailer's overseas operations as it is in their home market, according to Amanda Radley, International Sales Director at Microlights – an Aurora Group company.

Radley, who will be speaking at the International Retail Franchising Summit (IRFS) at London's Olympia on 11 March, suggests that in-store consistency across territories is key to ensuring brand continuity, although subtle changes may be required to meet specific market demands.

Ahead of IRFS, where the heads of international at companies such as The White Company, Hamley's and WH Smith are all scheduled to speak as part of an illustrious conference programme, Essential Retail caught up with Radley to hear her thoughts on the globalisation of retail and the importance of the in-store experience.

What would be your top 3 pieces of advice for retailers looking to expand abroad?

1.) Evaluate very carefully the appropriateness of your product offer to the target markets your are considering as well as your internal capabilities: are you geared to the requirements of international expansion? Do you have the appropriate skills sets and support mechanisms? If not, are there organisations which can help you?

2.) Decide on how you are going to undertake expansion – for example – in-house or using franchise partners. If franchise is the selected method, choose your franchise partner very carefully don't marry in haste to repent at leisure.

3.) International expansion has an additional dimension over that of domestic store programmes. You will need to rely heavily on your suppliers to deliver good stores, on time in new markets. Selecting the right supplier and working on this partnership is key to adhering to the critical time lines required to open stores on planned dates – it is not uncommon for retail brands to use one supplier domestically and a different one for international programmes.

Thinking specifically about the solutions you provide. How important is it for retailers to consider lighting and the in-store experience when opening their first stores in new territories?

The in-store experience is as critical overseas as it is at home and ensuring consistency is key to ensuring brand continuity. The store concept will have been carefully crafted to achieve the best result for the brand and we would suggest the first stores in a new territory are not best suited to experimentation with new components.

Allowing alternative products to be used means running the risk of changing the store ambience completely.

That said, we also have to consider deliverability and maintainability in different markets; these factors may lead a brand to make subtle changes to their standard specifications in order to ensure the best through life performance of the installation.

Which territories do you think show the most growth potential for today's retailers?

There is no single answer to this question as it depends on the market sector of the retailer, seasonality and uniqueness of their offer and their attitude to risk. However, we see increased growth in the Middle East, Asia Pacific regions and CIS states as well as steady growth in Europe and the US.

Tell us the key retail industry focus areas for your company this year?

Raising the awareness of Microlights' specialist knowledge and offer in the retail sector. We work in partnership with major international brands and support them in over 90 countries worldwide. Our goal is to develop new partnerships with new brands who value the kind of experience and assistance we bring to them.

New technology, particularly LED, allows us to do things that could not be achieved with conventional lighting. Exciting developments here mean integrating lighting with intelligence and controls is on our doorstep and could have a real impact on the way retailers light and manage their stores.

Why should retailers attend the International Retail Franchising Summit at this year's RBTE?

Retailers considering entering new territories should attend this summit to learn through the experience of others and to network with people and organisations who can help them achieve their goals effectively.

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International Retail Franchising Summit