COMMENT: Why we’re investing in British retail in uncertain times

Matt Broadway, the European president of online home appliances retailer SharkNinja, shares his thoughts on why a "new" UK industry is emerging and why companies should look to invest here despite Brexit uncertainty.

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uk retail

We live in uncertain economic times. More than three months after our proposed departure from the EU, our future relationship with it remains unclear and we can still only guess at the likely impact on the UK economy and what the future of the retail environment holds.

Some companies are planning for worst case scenarios. Yet, by contrast, SharkNinja – a US-based kitchen and home appliances retailer – has decided to invest in its British engineering and retail operations, announcing a £150 million investment plan over three years. Far from retreating, we’re showing this as the best way to continue to be a major player in UK retail. We have doubled the size of our R&D base in London and this year we are increasing our in-store presence, with 150 product demonstrators in-stores across the country, who are our frontline brand ambassadors.

So, why are we continuing to invest in the UK despite the uncertainty around Brexit?

“We’re showing this as the best way to continue to be a major player in UK retail”

First, because Britain trains great engineers. There is a strong, distinctive engineering culture in the UK and almost one fifth of the UK’s workforce is employed in the sector. We believe that British engineers are among the best in the world and we want to invest in the talent here. Our vision is very simple: we innovate to make better products for both our retailers and our direct consumers. Talented engineers produce innovative designs of products our retailers feel comfortable stocking on their shelves.

Secondly, the UK is central to our business growth strategy and has proved a very successful retail opportunity for us. At the end of 2018, Shark had a 42 per cent market share in the £250 million corded upright market, making it the UK market leader – the first time in more than two decades that Dyson no longer held this position. Half of SharkNinja’s global growth came from its UK subsidiary, showing the sheer strength of the UK retail market and sales potential for any company looking to have a stake in the British retail sector.

“The UK is central has proved a very successful retail opportunity for us.”

Thirdly, we see the UK as a launchpad for future expansion into Europe and believe £450 million of new revenue will come from the UK and new European markets. The key is to understand the demands of consumers in these markets and being able to respond quickly. We have technical hubs in Boston, London and Shanghai, with engineers in each location working collaboratively on a 24/7 cycle, allowing us to develop products from conception to commercial launch in six to nine months, much quicker than our rivals. Innovation gives more choice to the consumer – new products provide new solutions to everyday problems in our homes – and that helps retailers, who benefit when there is a buzz around innovative products.

Finally, as a company, we are customer-focused and involve the customer in the development of every product from inception onwards. We aim to generate 25 per cent of our revenue from products which we have launched within that calendar year, but we don’t believe in innovation for innovation’s sake – we believe in innovation which will make our customers’ lives easier and we have found that British engineers intuitively understand this. We produce products that consumers want and that retailers can be confident will sell.

It would be easy to use Brexit as a reason to delay important investment decisions, but that would be a mistake. For any company willing to listen to its customers and focus on giving them products that will make a difference to their everyday lives, the UK remains a rewarding retail climate.

Matt Broadway is the European President of SharkNinja

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