Mary Queen of Shops is an English reality / makeover show, along the lines of Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares. But instead of restaurants being made over, it’s small retail outlets and instead of Ramsay, it’s Mary Portas doing the makeovers. Although Mary doesn’t swear like Ramsay, she still seems able to alienate the owners of the businesses being made over.
I’ve only seen two episodes of the show, that currently airs on GEM at various times, but both times she managed to upset the owners of the shops that she was trying to modernise. In the first episode that I saw the makeover target was a bakery that was somehow stuck in the 70′s. They sold mainly plain white bread, iced buns and fairy cakes. Mary‘s plan was to bring the baking fare up to date, granary loaves, fancy breads etc. Then revamp the shop to bring it’s image in line with the hip new products. The owner, Angela, wanted the shop refitted, but was not keen on any other advice. She had been in the business for 30 odd years, as she repeatedly told anyone that would listen. She insisted that there was no market in her area that would warrant changing the things that she was baking. Even though she admitted losing some of her regular customers, as they had died. Mary showed her that young Mums were keen on these new loaves and were prepared to pay more for them. She took Angela to a country artisan bakers that was doing a roaring trade, although it was in a less densely populated area. Angela took the opportunity to talk down to the young guy that was running the shop, she had been in the business for 30 odd years, but his family had been running their business for much longer. She was a little taken back by this.
Angela wouldn’t let her baker bake the new breads, although he proved a dab hand at it. Eventually she threw Mary and the film crew out of the shop. She did the re-modeling herself and started to sell some modern style bread, but made from pre-mixed solutions, rather than making from scratch, as Mary had recommended and the artisan bakers were doing.
The episode that I saw last week featured a DIY store in a country town. The shop covered quite a big area and the owner had tried to resolve his diminishing business by selling anything that anyone might buy. So as well as the regular hardware, paint etc. You would expect to find in a DIY store, this place sold, greeting cards, shoes, nick knacks and ornaments, pets, you name it. It was a bit like the old Bazaar in Cairo. The staff, apart from the owner, knew little or nothing about DIY and their average sale was less than five pounds (about AU$8.00 on the current exchange rate). There was little room to move in the store, as it was jam full of stock and it was difficult to find any particular thing you were looking for.
The DIY Store before and after the refit.
Mary‘s solution was to get rid of anything that did not fall under the DIY heading, re-organise the layout, train the staff, give the shop a clear identity and re-name and re-sign it. The owner dug his heels in. He said he sold all of these odd items, but the shoes were like one pair every few weeks. Gradually, as he went through the training with his staff, he started to come around and the staff became very enthused. As one of them said, previously she was just a cashier, now she had an involvement. So the shop was made over, the pets were moved out and the cards stored somewhere. But the owner was dragging his feet all along. It was too difficult to reorganise the stock as there was nowhere to move it, he kept saying his slippers were a good thing. But this show had quite a happy ending with a grand opening of the store and lots of enthusiastic staff and customers. When Mary re-visited the store a few weeks later, the owner had reinstated the greeting cards and put his old business name outside the shop below the new one.
There is another good article on this series and how it’s effect on saving small independent shops at Blogging Fair Trade
The fact that the owners are so reticent is an interesting phenomenon. Is it because Mary is abrasive and rubs them up the wrong way? Or is it because many people go into business for them selves because they do not want to be told what to do and want to make their own decisions about their business? Even when new ideas may increase their earning power?
The show continues to run on GEM, you will have to check your guides, as I believe it is shown a few times each week.
By Max Power