Meet the Experts: Retail in Focus


In our recent ‘Meet the Experts’ series, Vicky Shah, sector lead for retail, hospitality and leisure interviewed seven experts from across Bureau Veritas, sharing their thoughts on achieving and maintaining compliance. Following on from her conversations with the technical experts, it’s now Vicky’s turn to answer the questions. In this special retail edition of ‘Meet the Experts’, Vicky is joined by colleague Michael Nicholls, European market leader for retail, banking and insurance. Here the two discuss the major compliance issues faced by the retail industry and share their insights on a sector that is constantly evolving.

What has been happening this year in the Retail industry?

Vicky Shah: Lots! Fire safety in particular has been a real area of focus this year. There have been a number of high profile incidents and as a result, enforcement authorities are showing very little tolerance, even versus processes accepted in years gone by.

We have also seen a lot of activity as a result of the 18th edition wiring regulations changes. Attendance to our seminars has been very good and actually, our customers are really engaging with us around best practice in light of these changes.

And again, as a result of some very sad and high profile coverage, food safety has also been high on the agenda. We are seeing lots of uncertainty around labelling, storage and checks in the food retailer side of things and actually this is having a direct impact in areas on footfall.

Michael Nicholls: At a European level, brand protection continues to be the focus for our international retail customers. More and more businesses are beginning to understand at C-level how health and safety is a brand protection issue, not simply a compliance issue. Similar to what you said Vicky, information can spread so rapidly that retailers do not have the same tolerance for Health & Safety (H&S) risk that they once did. The cost of non-compliance is higher than ever.

This is driving brands to demand greater central visibility and control of H&S in their network of assets. Our customers look to us not only for knowledge on legislation and compliance, but also for our international network of offices that can support their local teams.

VS: That’s true to the UK as well Mike. Last minute delays to shop openings for instance, can cost companies tens of thousands of pounds. It is interesting to see that we are seeing even more importance of H&S here in the UK. It is high on the agenda for UK businesses.

How can retail businesses effectively manage their H&S requirements across Europe?

MN: International retailers simply don´t have significant in-house H&S competence – and why would they? It´s not their core business. But with so many public facing assets, they are exposed to significant risk. Imagine the challenge to a H&S Manager sitting in a central office responsible for ensuring compliance across a vast portfolio of stores – relying on local store managers whose primary responsibility is sales and customer satisfaction. Where would you even begin? 

So this year, Bureau Veritas has launched a solution called ´Retail Network Stewardship´ to address this issue that many of our clients have. It´s a step by step process to ensure that H&S compliance across a network is met. Not only are we supporting clients in establishing a strong H&S strategy, but we continue to support our clients and continuously improve.

VS: The key point here is the importance of visibility and consistency. There is sometimes a lack of visibility across global operations for these big businesses and as you said Mike, it is difficult for businesses to keep track of the H&S situation across different countries. In the UK it is reasonably easy to access legal guidelines, the HSE website for example is a great tool, but this doesn’t always extend to Europe and beyond. It’s important for businesses to improve on this and as an industry we learn from our experiences ready to improve in 2019.

What trends have you seen across the Retail market?

VS: The high street is struggling in areas, whilst some retailers are thriving. We are seeing a definite decline in high street locations, and out of town, retail park type locations are doing better. The pressure being applied by discount retailers and online retailers continues to disrupt the household names in areas.
The theme seems to be that our customers want to rationalise their supply chains, partly to benefit from economies of scale, but also to make the management of contractors much easier. Actually being a large to large consultancy allows us to offer consistency, ease of management and of course great value.

MN: Yes I agree Vicky. However, I find it interesting to see that many high street retails are in fact struggling, in particular those that are transitioning to e-commerce, or those who had over extended their footprint. At the same time, however, we see many new and growing brands rapidly expanding their network of stores, or going with pop-up locations in urban areas.

Why Bureau Veritas for you?

VS: In today’s world, we expect to be safe when we travel, shop and of course at work. It is not unreasonable to trust that the environments we are in or the equipment we use will not cause us, or loved ones harm.
For me, it is important to be a part of improving knowledge around safety and in my role with Bureau Veritas I find myself doing just that. Bureau Veritas for me sets the standard, every day I am working with our technical experts to make safety an achievable priority for our customers. It’s been great to introduce some of our technical experts in our Meet the Experts series, and we have so many more.

The thing which really stood out for me was the impartiality aspect, meaning that when I am talking to my clients I can be totally independent and only ever offer realistic, truthful counsel.

MN: What I like about the work that we do with clients, especially in the retail sector, is that we identify the risks in public facing areas and we reduce them. These are the places that our families visit and walk around and are therefore at risk and we are working to mitigate these risks. As I am able to travel with my role, I am not limited to just Europe but also Asia and Africa, which gives me a global view of the market.

VS: Mike, having lived around the world and therefore opportunities to work in such a wide spectrum of roles, what drove you to be a part of H&S and compliance and why did you join Bureau Veritas?

MN: Well I started with Bureau Veritas in Shanghai, China in our Construction business. I think a big part of what I enjoyed was the work we were doing to protect our clients and their employees. Then coming into Europe it was a very different marketplace and even the cultural perspective on safety was very different. But as I said earlier, retail is such a public-facing industry and it is essential that we are keeping people safe. Although we are a B2B company I believe we are a business-to-business-to-society company whereby our work has a real impact on society. That´s important to me.

What is your top tip for businesses in the Retail sector?

VS: What doesn’t get measured, doesn’t get managed. Challenge the norm as often assumptions and complacency is where things go wrong. Never apologise for questioning the safety of a process and flagging concerns, particularly if it’s a near miss. You really could save a life!

MN: Exactly what you have said Vicky. Always challenge assumptions.

Also, I see a correlation between businesses that take H&S seriously and their position in the marketplace. Companies that lead in H&S really do tend to be the market leaders in growth and performance.

VS: Mike, would you go as far to say that H&S has a direct effect on your business success?

MN: Yes I would. There is a direct correlation between business success and H&S priorities. Obviously there is a direct connection between H&S performance and lost time, brand value etc. But I believe that H&S performance, like sustainability, is a barometer for the health of an organisation. When you fail to address H&S requirements of your business, there is an impact on productivity, activity and success. This is certainly the reality in industrial sectors, and I believe is now becoming the reality in the B2C sector.

VS: In addition to that, the media is so accessible that businesses are facing too much of a risk to not be H&S conscious. The marketplace is too competitive and consumers will happily go to a competitor if they feel they have concerns.

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