It seems like the world is changing quite quickly these days. By changing I mean that what we once thought of as stable, solid businesses are folding like houses of cards on our high-street. Mirroring the inexorable change to the UK high-street with the loss of huge brands like HMV, Blockbuster, Habitat, Oddbins, Virgin Megastores, Borders, Comet, Jessops(maybe a breath of life in the brand – Peter Jones has his work cut out), High & Mighty, Allied Carpets, and this week the fashion retailer REPUBLIC and many, many more (here’s an exhaustive list) is the inevitable knock-on into its supporting industries but one that is overlooked nearly always is the industry that keeps the shops looking smart, the packaging engaging and the environments welcoming and alive – the POS/POP industry. And this week saw one of the UKs biggest names enter administration – the Bezier Group.
These invisible companies (and they range in size from handfuls of employees to hundreds) are the ones who have been instrumental in delivering constant improvements to the retail sector over the last 30+ years. As the advertisers have dreamt up ever more attractive ways to promote brands and products and in their wake raising consumer expectations and aspirations, the POS/POP industry has delivered solid, tangible real world solutions to delivering the shop floor dream. Like the carpenters, electricians and scene painters in a theatre, they’ve taken ideas and made them real, cut them down to size and delivered enough of what mattered a price that kept the whole show going. But perhaps this is the beginning of the show nearing the end of it’s greatest run, not so much the curtain coming down but maybe them going from playing to packed houses 7 days a week to doing matinees 3 days a week. As online trading becomes the dominant battleground for consumers hard earnt cash, the high-street, the once great stage to conspicuous consumption is having to learn what it means for the first time in it’s life what second billing means. And more importantly to the creative community, what it means to them when they see their retail customers being washed away by the ever advancing waters of online shopping.
A good online retailer can shift a lot of stuff. A well developed, intelligently designed website can be managed by a very small group of people, it can be kept looking good by a single designer if push comes to shove. A creative solution for a shop that would once have taken weeks to implement can be spitballed, concepted, developed, tweaked polished and dropped into place within hours if the devil drives hard enough but more sensibly in days, with the extra added advantage of on-the-fly development. The long and the short of it is what would have taken the collective energies of many is now the output of relatively few.
Of course, we’ve all been through this before. Change is not new, the problem is we are pretty bad at quickly and effectively dealing with it. The wheel, no doubt put a few people out of work carrying stuff until they retrained to push and pull and then they got animals involved and things moved swiftly along. Guttenburg bloodied the nose of the church when he got all clever and invented the printing press – thousands of monks suddenly had much more time on their hands and a lot less ink. IBM and their contemporaries killed off type pools in a matter of years – releasing thousands and thousands of women from their jobs that they had fought hard to earn the right to have. All this change, all the time and here we are, it’s all happening again. But if there’s one thing history has taught us, it’s that it doesn’t seem to stop us. We adapt, we retrain, new industries mean new opportunities, new problems and new solutions.
So, until we get to the point where all manufacturing is done by robot (50years max?) and importantly in a cheaper manner than by humans, and systems are still overseen and developed by humans, then we still have a chance. No doubt, a lot of things will change between then and now and more creative companies that support traditional retail and paint the fabric of the high-street will have their spotlights turned off. Think of it as a closed system trying to find equilibrium after something alien has been put in the water – initially there is chaos but eventually it flattens out… it reaches a point of harmony and then… and then you can bet a dollar to a dime, the whole thing willl happen all over again.
To all those hundreds of people losing their jobs across the Bezier Group – our heartfelt condolences and the best wishes for your futures. See it as a chance to make a change.