With 2020 on the horizon, I’ve invited a few leaders in the gift industry to talk about their predictions for the coming decade.  This week I’m pleased to feature Caroline “Keb” Kennedy, a dynamic woman I’ve known since she was my editor at Gifts and Decorative Accessories.  I continue to enjoy her leadership as the editor of PRESENT, a magazine that our customers look forward to receiving as a gift from our shop twice a year.

 “It has been my pleasure to be a part of the gift industry for more than 30 years,” says Keb. “Formerly the editor-in-chief of Gifts & Decorative Accessories magazine, four years ago I co-founded the consumer gift magazine PRESENT with Kat Krassner. PRESENT is distributed by a select group of independent gift retailers nationwide.”

What do you think may happen to locally owned shops in the 2020s? 

“Independent retail will continue to face many challenges throughout the coming decade and shopkeepers will have to be smart enough and facile enough to adapt with the changes, and do it as quickly as possible. They cannot continue to do “business as usual” to survive. That means possibly adding new products and services, adjusting the merchandise mix to stay in tune with trends, and upping their online presence. They will also have to watch their bottom line even more carefully. 

Online shopping is not going away, especially for mainstream goods and services. Smart independent merchants must also become e-tailers, as well as having their brick-and-mortar presence. The good news is that unlike Gen X and Millennials, Gen Z (the current 22 and under crowd) like to shop in person, in stores, according to the NPD Group. They regard it as “entertainment.”  They are the independent retailer’s up-and-coming-generation of customers, so now is the time to capture their loyalty.

The digital world will also work to the retailer’s advantage by providing more ways for them to shop; it is already beginning to happen with the advent of wholesale marketplaces such as Faire and Tundra. Use of these online resources should be in addition to, and not instead of, shopping at trade shows and working with sales reps. But, just as retailers will still need to give customer a reason to cross the threshold of their stores, trade shows will need to be even more creative and give retailers more reasons to attend their markets. Nevertheless, we will probably see some more of the smaller, regional trade shows disappear as markets such as Atlanta and Las Vegas continue to grow. For their survival, regional shows may need to focus more on being a showcase for small regional makers who are not quite “ready for prime time.”

Smaller, independent retailers are not the only ones facing difficulties in retailing. Many larger, established retailers are also struggling against the onslaught of e-commerce.  The loss of larger retailers can provide smaller retailers with opportunity, but only if they can creatively and profitably fill a void left by the larger retailer with products and services that will bring customers to them.

We will also see the continued growth of entrepreneurial younger people entering the marketplace — as designers, as makers and as retailers. These young entrepreneurs will bring new ideas and fresh opportunity for retail.”

Please list three things you think will help independent retailers succeed in the coming decade.

1. Add online shopping capabilities to boost business and attract new customers — perhaps by taking a page from the playbooks of larger retailers, and integrate a “shop online, pick up in-store” policy — and add/increase social media outreach to keep the store and what it has to offer relevant and in the forefront of customers’ minds.

2. Create special shopping events targeted to Gen Z (the current 22 and under crowd) to reach this group as potential customers. Unlike Gen X and Millennials, Gen Z consumers like to shop in person, in stores. They regard it as a form of entertainment, as well as an opportunity to socialize. They are the independent retailer’s up-and-coming-generation of customers, so now is the time to capture their loyalty. Retailers might also consider working with the local high school and/or community college to create business and internship programs to encourage a new generation of independent retailers. 

3. Network with other like retailers, as well as local shopkeepers, to share strategies and learn from each other.

Happy Retailing,

Carol “Orange” Schroeder

Photo: Keb Kennedy is shown above with retailer Tara Riceberg at the Javits Center in New York.