Why Clever beats Innovation

Brian Walker | Founder and CEO | Retail Doctor Group


What do many of our most successful global retail networks have in common?

Is it that they commenced with a brilliant piece of innovation? A completely unique epiphany? A moment of sheer genius that no other human being had thought of prior or was it simply more about cleverness, underpinning the models ability to mutate and replicate?

‘Clever’ is defined as quick to understand, learn, and devise or apply ideas. Whilst innovation can be seen as that ‘light bulb moment’ - the application of information, imagination and initiative.

It is arguable whether these businesses we mention, had ‘light bulb moment’s per se, but they are certainly clever - and not just in the beginning, but have and continue to refresh and rejuvenate ideas over their retail lifetime.

These businesses have been smart and tactical, assessing the market, whilst bringing in other clever people as they’ve grown resulting in a resilient and relentless business. A good idea poorly delivered, versus a good idea cleverly delivered, will beat a good innovation poorly delivered every time.

When we look at the history and deployment of these great retail brands we do see some very simple and similar characteristics to their success;

• An original owner’s or influencer’s vision with regard for, but not paralysed by, risk. This was never a strategy about build a shop and see how it goes, every single decision is taken against channel outcomes. Ultimately built to sell, with no great reliance on any one individual or individuals per se, building the clock as distinct from telling the time.

• Unwavering resilience in bringing the offer to market. They don’t build and invest on a fad as such rather they see the trend and therefore opportunity.

• Products that arrive have to fit within the DNA and earn their place, and in doing so invariably replace rather than add to another product.

• Simplicity rather than complexity – this is key to building a network as distinct from a shop.

• Targeted offer – they know their target market with alacrity, and they don’t stray even when times get tough, they don’t try to be all things to all people. As much about the customer that they exclude as the one they do include.

• They are consistently strong believers in brand attributes, and build brands that are clever, powerful and meaningful (relevant).

• Product range, its width and depth, using colour blocking, planograms. Each store expresses a well-orchestrated and planned campaign that replicates across the network.

• Great systems and processes, systemising the business model in every single instance from supply channel, product characteristics to shop fitting, employment processes to compliance, rewards.

• Attention to fastidious detail, the product placement is never by accident.

• Shops don’t open as such, rather that the network channel expands and replicates.

• The real value in these businesses is their ability to segment into other offerings using their skill sets, and knowledge - Cotton On segmenting into Typo.

• Timing – simply the moons where aligned for their arrival (consider the role of social media as an accelerant to their growth as an example of timing)

Whilst innovation will always remain a buzz word that many retailers strive for, never underestimate the power of a clever and replicable retail strategy, that no matter what your size or category, will result in a sustainable ‘fit’ business model.

Brian Walker is Founder and CEO of Retail Doctor Group. Brian specialises in the implementation of insights driven strategy to build Business Fitness™. Contact Retail Doctor Group and quote ‘Business Franchise Australia’ to receive a complementary discussion on building your business’s retail fitness in 2017.

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