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How school shoe woes lead to Hospice Retail Conference session

Author: Elizabeth Palfreman
03 April 2018

Elzabeth Palfreman, Hospice UK’s National Support Manager, explains how a hunt for school shoes demonstrated the strengths and weaknesses of hospice shops.

‘Boring and bland.’ The review of my local shopping centre by my teenage daughter after a fruitless hunt for school shoes on Saturday.

Everything looked the same, there was nothing to differentiate any of the stores and the staff on the tills could barely raise a smile.  We were looking for school shoes; the shops were trying to sell us furry flip flops.

With several big retail names having gone to the wall in the last few weeks, and others rumoured to be teetering, how does hospice retail fare in this market?

In the last financial year hospice retail generated £62m towards patient care. However, behind this impressive figure average profitability was 24 per cent, down 4 per cent on the previous year, with 14 hospices reporting that their shops had made a loss.

After the shopping centre we then walked along our local charity shop mile.  Here the shops were busy, the windows were innovatively dressed and with sleet falling there were window displays of winter coats responding to need rather than the beachwear offered in the local department store.

Having to utilise what has been donated means hospice retailers really have to be creative with window displays but that frees them from the blandness of their mainstream rivals, and the customer service shown at the till was warm and genuine.

Returning empty handed of school shoes we turned to the net. Here the retail giants definitely had the edge, making shopping easy with next day delivery at a cost less than the parking I had just paid. By contrast the hospice charity online offering looked meagre.

So who are the retailers who are balancing online and physical sales?  One of the most successful is clothing and lifestyle brand Joules, who are now Hospice UK corporate partners.  With more than 90 shops and a booming online business Joules seem to have developed a loyal brand following who cannot get enough of what they are offering.

The best news for hospice retail is that they are willing to share their knowledge with delegates at the Hospice UK Retail Conference. Andrea Gray, their Retail Director, leads a plenary session while Social Media Planner Emma Hamblin is running a workshop on using digital media to drive online and physical sales.  To see what else is happening at the May conference and to book your place click here.  

We still do not have any school shoes. Maybe by the conference in May our shopping needs will have caught up with the weather and what retailers are prepared to sell us.

See more articles in People and places

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