Myself and Chris Dutton (a fellow retail academic) are three quarters of the way though our most recent retail KTP. This time, we are working with St Wilfrid’s Hospice (Eastbourne) but have previously had successful partnerships with The Seafood Restaurant (Padstow) Ltd (better known as Rick Stein’s) (Retail and Hospitality), Pordum Foods Ltd (Hot food vending) and Spring Barn Farm near Lewes (Farm Shop start-up.) final quarter is always an exciting time in these ESRC/ Innovate UK (previously TSB) funded projects as the first year is very much about implementation and systems. By comparison, in the second year we then move in to intensify the knowledge transfer components and finely tune the retail management and marketing elements. The second year also allows us to measure and reflect on the range of benefits that we can leave the organisation with and identify what each of the project partners have learned from the process.
Why retail needs knowledge transfer
Most owner/managers as retailers are passionate about what they do and have great ideas and ambition for growth, but at times, their entrepreneurship and drive doesn’t readily translate into mainstream retail merchandising, new product development (NPD) or marketing strategies. This is where we can provide the expertise. By combining our work experience with the academic elements, including Retail BA and MSc teaching we have found that we can help the SMEs that we work with to do things better for their customers, ultimately making more profit as a result. What is also particularly pleasing is that increasingly, the UK Government is recognising the value of a quality retail offer to the national economy whether it be from a multiple, SME or start-up business perspective. Last year there was a specific ESRC call for retail KTPs as a result.
Successes and achievements
These projects are not for the faint-hearted as they do require a lot of planning and if you get it wrong it can have serious consequences for the businesses you are working with. That said, because Chris and I understand the retail mind-set, talk lots about retail and love a challenge (and there are plenty!) we have never found it to be a problem. In fact, KTP gives us a real buzz, whether it be from a new initiative, a good set of sales figures or provision of a general highlight to incorporate into our teaching. We’ve achieved the top ‘A’ grade for all of our completed retail partnerships to date, this being a real achievement for the university and our course profiles. KTPs also give us raw materials to publish from which we are getting better at over time. The university also runs a yearly KTP Associates conference that allows us to network with the KTP community and update them on our activities.
Making a difference to the classroom
Knowledge transfer is not a consultancy exercise – it’s a mutually beneficial three-way partnership between the company, the university and the Associate. Our experience of working on KTPs has given us lots of new material to incorporate in to our teaching, even to the point where we ask students to write a case study application centred on the outline bid process, as part of our Level 5 undergraduate Retail Management in Action Module. The students find this novel pedagogic delivery which is more aligned to working in collaboration in industry to be a challenge ….but it works! Having this timetabled at the end of the second year really pulls together the content of the first 2 years of their studies in preparation either for their critical final year or their time out on placement. Our External examiners regularly highlight this as a good example of best practice.
The other great thing about KTP is that you get to work with a load of really interesting specialists whether it be the KTP Advisors, the University of Brighton KTP Centre or the company partners. But the most important group that we work with are the recently qualified graduate Associates, who make up the backbone of KTP. They are amazing individuals, with loads of energy and ideas – we reckon that KTP gives them the equivalent of 5 year’s mainstream retail experience condensed into a traditional 2 year KTP project. A good Associate is a key ingredient in making a project successful. Once the project is complete, they go on to do really great things, often with the company partner, which is why we always prompt our final year students to think about KTPs as their first graduate destination.
It’s never been so good to get out of the office… give a KTP a try!
Harvey Ells, Principal Lecturer in Retail and Food Studies