One year ago today BHS hit the buffers, ending almost a century on the high street and opening a corporate can of worms.
Lessons must be learned from the department store group’s shipwreck, for no other reason than the human cost in lost jobs and jeopardised pensions.
Perhaps the biggest lesson is the importance of doing the right thing. Adherence to the letter of the law – and there remain unresolved questions in that respect – is not always enough.
BHS became a retail morality play, staged in the court of public opinion.
For good or ill, big businesses and the powerful people who run them have been thrust into the public eye like never before.
They have been held publicly to account for their decisions and targeted by politicians of both the left and right.
”If one good thing came out of the demise of BHS, it was that it provided a wake-up call for others”
As a result retailers, particularly because of their familiar presence on the high street and the fact that people engage with them every day, can expect their actions to remain subject to intense scrutiny and whether they are seen to act in the public, as well as shareholder, interest.
That is especially likely to be the case when transactions are involved.
As former BHS owner Sir Philip Green found to his cost, if you sell a business to a buyer who proves flaky – to put it charitably in the case of BHS purchaser Dominic Chappell– you will be held responsible for the consequences.
Evolve or die
But perhaps the biggest takeaway from the sorry saga of BHS is the need for retailers to evolve. What was good enough 10 or 20 years ago is unlikely to be so today.
If one good thing came out of the demise of BHS, it was that it provided a wake-up call for others – a call to review the soundness of strategy, to invest if necessary and to seek more urgently than ever continued consumer relevance.
Such measures won’t save the livelihoods of former BHS employees. But they may save those of others in the sector, helping protect retail’s good name and its continued place at the heart of national life and prosperity.