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The man who read the room

Alan McGrath
National Organiser, Health Stores Ireland

At our recent “Putting Our Best Foot Forward” event, I was charged by my council to book a retail futurist “from outside the box” to challenge and inspire us. After exhaustive searches on various platforms, I eventually stumbled on a podcast with Tim Radley, founder of VM-Unleashed. Tim is an immediately likable guy, softspoken but with a knockout delivery. He is overtly curious and deeply knowledgeable.

Tim took to getting to know us better. “Us” being the mad yokes (that’s Irish slang for ‘things’) of the retail world, bound as a sectoral unit by the equivalence of our differences. The most unbusinesslike bunch of businesses he may have encountered for a while. Appearing as a rambunctious rabble rather than a tightknit group of executives. While I wasn’t really concerned what any of our guest speakers might have thought of us, I was somewhat worried that he may not be able to give direction to an overtly disparate group. I need not have fretted.

Mr Radley can add “skilled reader of rooms” to his list of accolades. While his presentation was focused on global trends and the unpicking of these to suit a specialist sector like ours, he deftly turned these predictions and forecasts around, and on their heads, to acknowledge that the answers were in the room with us all along.

Authenticity is the key, the attendees at our event won’t need training courses on this. In a world where the conscious customer is the new king, yet again our time has come. Climatarians and Regenivores are the new high street kingpins and while multiples pivot and contort themselves to capture these trendies, we only need to strengthen our bonds with like-minded producers and suppliers. This is exactly what we were doing in the Ballroom in Shannon.

Passion supply chain is a phrase that emerged during one of our pre-event meetings and to my mind it’s the perfect catchphrase of our time and for our sector. The guy that grows aronia berries standing next to the fellow with medicinal mushrooms, chatting with the lady who developed a seaweed tonic, looking inquiringly at the aromatherapy man who has raised a family from his passion with oils, sets the scene for you. Imagine the cover of Sergeant Pepper’s, but with everyone holding a food item or a natural cosmetic and you are getting close.

As our key-speaker addressed the room, with a callout for more collaboration and a focus on community, it wasn’t without notice that he was doing so with the amps turned up to eleven – desperately trying to raise his delivery over the chattering, rattling and hum of the loquacious ones that orbit our sphere. Preaching to the converted you might be thinking, and why bother? For all its socialisation, retail can be a lonely and inward-looking place. Getting together, setting an inspirational tone, and holding up a mirror to the room in the form of our annual awards are now more than ever an essential fixture in the calendar of the mad yokes of retail.

Health Stores Ireland is the professional trade association representing more than 110 independent health stores in Ireland. Visit, Facebook @HealthStoresIreland

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