Friday, 3 April 2015

Save British Home Stores!

I was sad to hear that retail Tsar, Sir Philip Green, has sold off BHS for £1 to a little-known investor group called Retail Acquisitions as it has been losing out to inferior rivals.

I used to love BHS. It was the best place for funky bathmats, bedding and tops. It also had a great lighting department with attractive functional lights. I even had a business store card with them to keep the Oxford College I then worked for in attractive bedroom lighting,

Where they have gone wrong over the years is that when they get a winning product which sells like hot cakes, they invariably never re-stock it!

Several years ago I fell in love with a new line of brushed cotton duvet sets in attractive grey/white or navy/white checks (ie not covered in flowers or utterly plain like most brushed cotton). I went back at the end of the week to purchase a set and all they had left was the set on the display bed. It took a lot of persuading but they finally sold it to me. Much to my amazement this best selling product was never replenished or even re-released with a new twist.

Last summer I had a similar experience when I noticed a cute white blouse covered in little blue boats in my local BHS. However there were none in my size either in store on online. Again, they were never re-stocked despite their obvious popularity.

I bought my favourite ever pair of trainers in BHS - with the flexible soles that I like - in block silver colour with no horrible logos or clashing colours. They were much admired, but again there were only a few pairs on display and only one pair in my size or I would have happily bought several pairs.

BHS has a tradition of doing nice stuff at reasonable prices. It is unfortunate that so many (largely) cheap and nasty new rivals have sprung up to dazzle consumers (though I'd love to see a wash-by-wash product longevity comparison). My one and only foray into a Primark yielded a pack of socks which did not even last one wash, let alone a season.

Looking to the future, BHS need to do more to cater for those who don't necessarily want to walk around in low-cut spaghetti tops and barely-there skirts.
Where are their fabulous funky maxi dresses with classic straps or even cap or mid sleeves? What has the fashion industry got against sleeves? Not everyone has killer elbows or knees (no matter what their age). Not everyone wants to expose their cleavage at all times either. Where is the classy clothing that you can actually wear to the office as well as to the garden party? No one seems to be catering for this market.

In fact no major store seems to be taking much trouble to find out what its customers actually want rather than trying to continually guess, sometimes with disastrous results, not least in the age of internet competition. I used to live near an ice cream parlour which had a flavour petition - if they had more than 50 requests for a flavour they would make it, and if it sold well it would become a new regular, or even all-year round staple. Not far away in the same city was a restaurant which had the philosophy 'You said, we did' re most of its customer service and food innovations. However visit the website of a major store and you will seldom find a 'Suggest new product' option on the email drop-down list or even a 'Compliment us' option when you want to praise them for a product you particularly like so that they get positive feedback as well as customer complaints. Even Sir Philip Green, for all his retail successes, missed a trick or two on these fronts.

Some have cruelly termed it 'Boring Home Stores', but that is not at all true in my experience and I hope everything will be done to steer this business away from the rocks and into a flagship British store once again.


Steve said...

Having watched a few seasons of The Apprentice I consider myself an expert on the rudiments of business and identifying a produce that sells well and then acquiring more of that product in order to sell more seems to the first and most basic rule of business...

The Poet Laura-eate said...

That's the bizarre thing Steve - most of us know the basics and have heard Lord Sugar's famous 'smell what sells' mantra, but where is it in real life?
You wouldn't have thought stores can afford to take the risk of NOT listening to their own customers and watching their own stock levels.

Wisewebwoman said...

....Especially I this digital age Laura when tracking is so easy.