Part 2: What I’ve got in common with Mary Portas
‘Mary Portas meets Mary Poppins’ it boldly claims in my Bio. Well what have I got in common with Queen Of Shops – Mary Portas?
As foremost authority on the UK Retail landscape & hero of the High Street, I’ve not got much in common when it comes to comparing her wealth of expertise. What I have got though is the desire for change. Have you?
Like Mary, I strongly believe that good Retail is all in the detail. I feel like I’m at the beginning of a mission to improve my own local High Street but not sure where to begin so have been taking notes from the brilliant Portas Review.
Consumer behaviour consumes my thoughts. We all buy so much STUFF. We are living in a material world & I am a material girl yet our spending habits aren’t immaterial. In fact they matter a lot more than we probably give ourselves credit (cards) for.
Ethos & Philosophy
Empty shop spaces & the decline of independents really gets my goat/on my wick/me on my high horse. The town where I live is currently undergoing a series of closures; Mothercare, Waitrose & many indies have all very recently shut up shop. The local community petitioned to prevent this but we failed.
However, I am hoping there are better times ahead on a gentrified horizon with the new arrival of M&S (Simply Food) & the yet to open TK Maxx & Next (the foremost & latter previously operated on our High Street but left over rates). Even Starbucks has done a runner – though there’s certainly no shortage of generic chain store coffee beans available. Or betting shops. Or discount retailers.
Not that there’s anything wrong with these types of businesses, I just desire a bit of VARIETY & I’m not alone. You may be reading this from another county or part of the country yet have identical retailers on your doorstep. It’s all just got a bit too Attack of the Clones* Is it too much to ask to restore a bit of cheer & a bit of Small Business Cheers! “…Sometimes you want to go, Where everybody knows your name”?
Love Local & Shop Small
Our ‘Market Square’ Market has just moved onto the High Street itself, aiming to take advantage of the higher footfall yet is less than a minute’s walk away from its’ more picturesque & historic setting. Whilst I appreciate the thought behind this, I think the real problems lie in what the stallholders are selling. I almost never shop on my closest Market unless the French/Italian/German stalls are in town- then I make a beeline for it.
Just in the next main town, slightly closer to the City, is a superb Farmer’s Market with a rotation of sellers & wares on a regular basis. NB: I often make the journey specifically for a slice of a George’s Bakery creation.
Cambridge City itself has a glorious wealth of indies & a great range of pops (aka High Street stores) from eateries to boutiques but with parking costs at an eye-watering rate, the nightmarish route of the A14 to contend with or s-l-o-w Public Transport, I’m finding it increasingly difficult to justify my trips so often end up buying more things online. I am missing the experience.
I value my local community & finally after years of moving & antisocial existence, I know my neighbours – they’re lovely! I’m hosting a get-together on Monday for Macmillan & they’ll be popping over for a cuppa. My parents live close by. This stuff matters to me.
I’m endeavouring to live by the mantras ‘Donate don’t dump’ & ‘Buy less, buy better – or buy smarter’. Save where & on what you can so you can splurge on economical items with longevity. Thinking about Living & Giving.
“Living. Belonging makes us happy. We naturally want to commune. Being connected to others, and knowing our mutual interests are more important than our personal goals, fulfils our lives”.
“Giving. We are all the richer for giving and there is no deeper or more lasting pleasure. Because kindness really is its own reward”.
Life & Style
- Not afraid of wearing bold patterns or colour. Evidenced HERE.
- A fan of organic cotton knickers. Read THIS.
- A busy Mum.
- Customer Service champion (see below). Just have a read of this & nod along to Mary’s ‘Top 10 Customer Service Crimes’.
Just like the ‘Queen of shops’ I have done my fair share of time as a Shop Girl. As soon as I lost interest in shovelling dung down at the stables (NB: not my stables nor horses but my local riding school where I ‘mucked out’ in exchange for riding lessons as a child; its the closest to Chimney Sweeping I’ve come) & discovered Fashion with a capital ‘F’, darling!
My initial education came courtesy of Sugar & Bliss among other magazines & my training grounds were the local arcades & malls – mostly window shopping at Tammy Girl & Clockhouse (C&A) until real pocket money came into play; I just desperately wanted to work in amongst those pretty rails of promise in some capacity.
From part-time positions while I studied Fashion & Textiles like Ravel (Clarks) & French Connection (in the FCUK everything era) to stints volunteering at BHF & Mind**, to working at high-end Designer boutiques & then, after leaving London & my job in Magazine Advertising & Promotions, went back to the beginning again at my local John Lewis.
I soon found my niche for Personal Shopping & in-store events whilst looking after premium brand concessions. I got to the chance to attend Fashion Weeks & contributed to the internal magazine. I thought I’d found my calling.
I’d always had a natural knack for sales but it was during my time in the ‘never knowingly undersold’ Womenswear department that my motivations became focused on Customer satisfaction over my personal pay check (zero commission & low hourly wage). The fitting room became my office & the customers’ Confessional vestibule. I found an immense amount of satisfaction from helping people to feel even a little bit better about themselves or to find the Holy Grail: a perfect pair of jeans.
From dressing ladies for the Races or countless weddings & balls, to ladies who had gone through massive weight-loss, childbirth & mastectomies. I will never forget styling one lady for her secret wedding; she had been given a terminal Cancer diagnosis & had finally submitted to her partner’s pleas after many years together “…better late than never!” she joked.
Another customer I vividly remember had terrible Arthritis & needed to find pieces “…without fiddly bits or buttons, please”. This particular lady was so classically put-together; she had been an Artist but felt she’d lost ‘herself’ because she could no longer paint.
It’s all too easy to be dismissive of fashion & personal style as something frivolous, but how we get dressed makes a huge impact on our self-worth, confidence & regardless of wealth or status is a universally great form of expression. We all wear clothes & accessories – unless you’re a Nudist, than I take my hat off to you Sir/Madam 😉
Yet despite my intuitive skills combined with – by then a pretty encyclopaedic- knowledge of brands & genuine understanding of womens’ sartorial needs (sleeves FFS!) & desires, my intended career was yet again cut short. Unfortunately an accident occurred at work, ironically caused by a Disabled access Fitting Room door; I badly injured my back.
My recovery & return to work was not pleasant & with my history of absences due to Depression, was not treated favourably by certain individuals; I felt no option but to leave. The door isn’t there anymore after what happened. Literally & metaphorically. Yet as the saying goes, another door was going to open…
…One at ELLE magazine.
Then my daughter was born.
Then indieandpop.com was born.
*Attack of the Clones is the worst Star Wars film IMHO.
**Volunteering at Mind was the first ‘job’ I had after I had a severe episode of Depression. It got me out of the house & back into a routine.