What would Mary do?
I find myself continually inspired by the genius that is Mary Portas and always refer back to content from her masterful TV programs when working with retailers.
I will be forever grateful for stumbling across her very first series, Mary Queen Of Shops which launched back in 2007. We watched Mary go behind the scenes of the fashion retail world, with the challenge of rescuing a series of failing independent boutiques. After watching her turn each business around I felt so inspired to help retailers here in our backyard and told every client I had of Mary’s brilliance in the hope that they too could take something away from her advice.
Fast track to 2013 and after numerous successful TV programs and initiatives throughout Britain, Mary launched her latest TV series, Mary Queen Of The High Street. There were three episodes in the series each packed with fresh new concepts and some good old common sense.
I found episode two, based around the challenge of reviving the once popular but now ailing UK seaside town of Margate, particularly intriguing and I noted three points that I would like to share with you.
1 - Evolve or die
For decades seaside resorts were THE holiday destination for Brits. With a host of entertainment, fairground rides, purpose built holiday centres, and of course an endless supply of fish and chips and sticks of rock everyone was well catered for. But then things changed. Cheap air travel empowered Brits to head to warmer climates; satellite TV and the internet provided stay at home entertainment; and out of town mega-centres became convenient one-stop destination shopping areas. It's obvious to us now but as these transitions took place I imagine the seaside towns of Britain adopted their famous stiff upper lip and vowed to continue through the tough times in the expectation that the golden days of yesteryear would return, but they didn't. Fortunately for Margate Mary came to its rescue, but dozens of other seaside towns won't be as lucky.
I would hate to see the same thing happening here in Australia, so if you run your own retail business ask yourself if you know what is happening around you? Are there changes a foot and are you prepared to make changes to your business in order to evolve and remain current and successful within your market.
2 - It's OK to be vulnerable
Margate the town featured in this episode was guarded beyond belief. Members of the town committee meeting didn't want Mary's cameras to film the discussions and some residents were so anti-Mary that they spread negative publicity about her through the press and Facebook. Knee-jerk defensive reactions are a natural response when help is offered because it means we have to acknowledge a problem exists that we aren't coping with. But that's ok. We're human and it's ok to say "Things aren't going to plan but I'm trying to make things work and I could really use some help and support." Your customers will appreciate your honesty and if anything can become more emotionally attached to your brand as you've exposed the vulnerable, human side of it rather than putting up a shield of steel.
If you are in a tight situation and feeling that your business is in trouble don't be afraid to speak up and ask for help, your customers could actually be a fantastic resource to tap into. Maybe it worth be worth your while conducting a survey and ask them a few simple questions about they want.
3 - Have a point of difference
When times are tough there is always a huge opportunity to truly push your creative brain, think outside that square and come up with some amazing concepts. Don't join the retail pack in the downward spiral of sales and discounting, desperately hoping that fate will choose you as one of the survivors. Instead strive for a point of difference and play on it for all it's worth. Margate, a seaside town that was renowned for the famous amusement attractions on its now defunct pier, looked to its past and re-invented its pier as an Inland Pier on the high street. Genious!
Head on over to, http://www.channel4.com/programmes/mary-queen-of-the-high-street/videos/series-1/s1-ep2-margate-mayhem to see how Mary helped Margate.
What's your point of difference and how can you play on that to make yourself truly stand out?