Malcolm Walker Retail Week Columns

Retailers should be seen as heroes, not villains

Britain is indisputably world class at retailing and it’s painful to see our industry tarnished by the few.


Nothing is more important to any of us – whether as individuals or businesses – than our reputation. And few things of such value are more fragile.

A lifetime carefully building up a good name can easily be wiped out in just a few seconds of misjudgment, or with a handful of badly chosen words.

And even if we manage to dodge those elephant traps ourselves, we are not immune to the mistakes and misdemeanours of others.

Just as the MPs involved in the expenses scandal trashed the image of Parliament as a whole – “they’re all the same, aren’t they?” being a common refrain – every retailer risks reputational damage from the failing businesses, endangered pensions and questionable employment practices that have dominated the headlines this summer.

This pains me greatly because I don’t want the industry where I have spent my whole working life to be a byword for fat-cattery, rule-bending or simple incompetence.

Retailing has long one been one of those arenas in which Britain is indisputably world class.

We’ve created some of the best-known global brands, become the nation’s biggest employer, and brought consumers a range of products and services of which they could not even dream when Iceland started trading in 1970.

Unlike some conveniently offshore online retailers we at Iceland pay our taxes in the UK to build hospitals, roads and schools, and put even more back into the community through our support for good causes.

Right now our focus is on finding a cure for dementia by helping to fund the development of a new, world class research institute at UCL in London.

As usual, our people and customers helped us to raise huge sums during our annual charity week in August; our suppliers have rallied round to support a major fundraising ball at my own home later this month; and along with several other like-minded retailers we are donating all proceeds from the sale of single-use carrier bags to this vitally important cause.

Iceland alone has pledged to raise £10m for UCL Dementia Research over the next three years, and the contribution from retailing as a whole will be much greater – and it is not too late for those who have not yet made a commitment to come on board.

There need be no conflict between making a good living out of retailing and doing the right thing for colleagues, customers and society as a whole.

At Iceland we’ve always tried to treat our people fairly, pay them as generously as business performance will allow, and do our best to make work as much fun as it can be.

We’ve also led the way in many initiatives over the years to improve food standards, and always sought to give consumers great quality and brilliant value.

No one ever gets everything right, but we learn from our mistakes.

Retailers should not be shy about publicising the good we all do. Because retail wealth creators deserve to be recognised among society’s heroes, not its villains.

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