BRC annual retail dinner: “What an extraordinary year”

“What an extraordinary year it’s been for our country, and our industry,” was Chief Executive of the BRC, Helen Dickinson’s opening remark at this year’s BRC retail industry dinner, held at Grosvenor House Hotel on Park Lane, London.

I can’t remember a time when retail has been under closer scrutiny.”

Of course, Brexit was a hot topic in both her speech and the opening remarks of incoming BRC chairman, Richard Baker, who replaced the departing Sir Charlie Mayfield on 1st September. However, it was one of many challenges facing the retail industry that were mentioned during the course of the evening; falling employment, staff retention and productivity, business rates, deep discounting, and fundamental changes in consumer behaviour all received airtime.

Dickinson used this year’s annual dinner as a platform to launch the final instalment of the BRC’s Retail 2020 series, a journey to better jobs. More than 100,000 people in retail today work in a role that did not exist five years ago, and she forecast that this level of fluidity will continue – particularly as retailers strive to strike the balance between people and technology. The CEO called for retailers to be collaborative in this journey to a more productive environment, warning that “we have a duty to make sure our success doesn’t come at the cost of our customers or our colleagues.”

This sentiment was echoed by Baker, who is also chairman of both DFS and Whitbread, when he took to the stage. “It is the BRC’s mission to make a positive to difference to the retail industry,” he began, urging retailers not to become too disheartened by the plethora of pressures they currently face.

“The retail industry now has to speak up to maximise the opportunities this new era presents,” concluded Baker. “I’m confident that our industry will continue to prosper for decades to come.”

If there was a phrase which could sum up the mood of the BRC annual retail industry dinner, it would be ‘triumph in the face of adversity’. There was widespread acknowledgement that conditions are tough, but that Brexit and other challenges shouldn’t be treated as an excuse for retailers to stop seeking excellence.

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