Mary Portas strode through the door last night proclaiming “Don’t think I’m coming in here with a wand or stick of celery” as the eyes of the staff widened with concern. This wasn’t a theatre performance, but the start of last night’s episode of Mary Queen of Shops on BBC2, the second episode of the series where retail consultant and shopper supreme Mary Portas sets out on a mission to improve ailing retail businesses. The initial concerns of the employees at the greengrocers Fosters in Merseyside – a 115 year old business with serious problems on their books – burgeoned into joy and pride as Mary renovated the store leading to an increase in income of £400 per week. The other stores on Mary’s list this series include a village store, a homeware store, an ironmongers, hairdressers, and a bakery, and the key focus is her passion for good service and seeing shopping as an experience. Mary’s approach is to review the business from the point of view of a shopper first and foremost rather than a ‘retail consultant’ and her level of success and expertise is highly coveted in an industry which is one of the fastest moving in the world, with British retail currently leading the way. The competition on the high street is immense, especially at times of economic concern, and the need to be ahead of the rest requires daily adaptation.
After a very difficult childhood which involved bringing up her brother after the death of her mum, Mary’s career started with her work at John Lewis, Harrods, and Oxford Street’s Topshop, and she became famous in the 90s for revamping Harvey Nichols. In 1997 she started her own consultancy Yellowdoor and it now has 50 employees in Bloomsbury who work with advertising, branding, strategy and communications for the retail, lifestyle, fashion and luxury industries. Mary’s own fame has grown with appearances on shows including Friday Night with Jonathan Ross and also her column Shop! in The Telegraph. She began the column in 2005 at a time when reviewing shops was an anomaly but she took the plunge and her popular column is still in full swing today. Mary's reviews have included every store from Topshop to John Lewis, Bhs, LK Bennett, and even the bank HSBC, and her independent honesty remains intact.
Mary is also the Global Retail Ambassador for Save the Children and she has set up Living and Giving shops with the charity which include the work of local artists and samples direct from designers. She is about to launch The Mary Portas Guide to Successful Retailing, a series of innovative masterclasses delivered by the National Skills Academy, and she is also on the lookout for women over 40 who want to join her new project to redefine middle age.
So if retail is your thing, or simply expertise on turning around businesses, Mary Portas is a very engaging and effective keynote speaker who has an incredible story and is not afraid to tell it how it is.
Copyright Speakers Corner 2016