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This week we spoke to Phil Mullis, Head of Retail at accountancy firm Wilkins Kennedy. Established in 1882, Wilkins Kennedy has expanded to 18 regional offices based in the South of England with a turnover of £55 million, and over 700 staff and partners.

Can you tell us about the work you do as the Head of Retail?

It’s quite a varied role but it’s client-facing for predominately independently owned retailers; advising them on business growth and areas such as corporate and personal taxes, VAT, payroll – along with audits for larger retailers, accounts and often back office support, particularly timely management reporting. My role is also to prepare useful and informative content for retailers and to coordinate content from the Wilkins Kennedy retail team. I also help with business funding and turnaround, with help from my colleagues in Restructuring and Recovery.

What’s the biggest challenge facing the high street today?

There is a myriad of challenges facing today’s high street; in particular, the drop in footfall. Having fewer people coming to the high street has really impacted upon physical retail; consumers buy through different channels and not just physical.

What is the biggest issue facing independent business owners today that you feel is not being spoken about, or addressed properly?

It’s an issue that has certainly gained a lot of exposure but unfortunately, has not been addressed. Yes, business rates. This is a tax created before there was a digital retail channel; the world we live in today is multichannel and consumers buy both on and offline. Often a Pureplay retailer won’t need to be in a prime location, as its footfall is digital rather than physical, and its premises may have a lower rateable value. The lower rateable value will often give it a cost-saving advantage over its physical competitors. This is not to say Pureplays aren’t playing fair – it’s a valid method of doing business. However, the Government needs to realise that this arcane tax is not fit for today’s world.

How do you think we can attract more footfall to local high streets?

We have to give people a real reason to come to our High Street and make it as easy as possible for them to come. Sensible local parking charges help a little but overall the High Street needs to have more than just retail – it needs to be a place where we can share physical interaction with our community. The High Street today and tomorrow will not have as many shops but the ones it does will be better and provide a great experience for their customers. I believe that humans are social creatures and a great High Street can create a meeting place.

What is the best bit of advice you could give to someone who is looking to start their first independent retail business?

Know your numbers. It is absolutely vital you understand what is coming in, what is going out and when. You need to be cash generative and also have access to lines of credit to enable you to, for example, restock, pay and train your employees as well maintain a great store and digital presence. Before you start your first independent retail business draw up a cash flow model (a good accountant should be delighted to assist) and see where the peaks and troughs will be – this will enable you to plan for both the good and bad times and help you not to run out of cash.

When has a local business surprised you in a positive way and how did they do it?

The Craft Beer Shop in Little Chalfont has been open for just under 3 ½ years and from just providing beer to its customers, as you would expect, its offering has developed, over time, in line with its customers’ needs and wants. It has bought experiences to its retail offering such as: Meet the Brewer, Comedy Nights, Backgammon afternoons and Sports Events. So rather than being just a great beer shop, it has created different reasons for people to come and by doing so expanded its customer base. It has also got a great Facebook page, regularly updated, with events and new products.

Where can we find out more about you and Wilkins Kennedy?

You can find out more about Wilkins Kennedy and our Retail team by going to https://www.wilkinskennedy.com/sectors/retail-and-wholesale/ and me, via Phil Mullis on LinkedIn or @phil_mullis on Twitter.

I would love to connect and discuss retail with you!