Oscar Wilde once said that “conversation about the weather is the last refuge of the unimaginative”.
Oscar Wilde once said that “conversation about the weather is the last refuge of the unimaginative”. Given that, for most of my life, I have been creating things that stimulate the imagination (among other things), I hope you will give me a little latitude, because I want to talk about the weather. Or, to be more precise, I would like to discuss how we deal with it, because we need to rethink the role that it plays in our business planning.
Putting new technology aside, the key category that drives footfall to the high street is women’s fashion. Without fashion retail, there wouldn’t be retail.
But when it’s red hot over the August bank holiday and the first wave of autumn/winter is in store, our customers don’t want these items any more than a summer dress when it’s snowing at Easter, and that has repercussions for every retailer on the high street.
So many of us have step-changes in our retail calendar that are based on autumn/winter and spring/summer collections, but whether it’s global warming or not, I can’t remember the last time our seasons seamlessly flowed from one to another.
We seem to lurch from cold and wet, to snow, to the odd glorious day before we return to cold, wet and grey. If the bulk of a new seasonal collection hits the stores when the weather’s wrong, you’re a long time catching up with missed targets and your cash flow gets squeezed as you do. If capsule ranges aren’t enough to paper the cracks, then maybe the way we plan and promote our launches needs root and branch adjustment.
A similar debate has begun about school holidays and, in particular, about the length of the summer break.
I was surprised to hear that one of the reasons that summer holidays were originally so long was to allow children to work the fields during the harvest months. Of course, that doesn’t apply now, so why have this holiday so long when quite often both parents are working? I know many women - and it is still predominantly women who deal with this - find it hard to cover the school holidays so, as the industry that employs the most women, we should join the debate and help find a better way. Both issues could see a paradigm shift in the way we operate.
So how do we move on from changes to our wardrobe based on seasons and traditional climactic changes? How do we move on from spring/summer, autumn/winter? Could we anchor it to a date - for example, May Day - when everyone should refresh their wardrobe and hit the shops? Could we unite as retailers and formally launch new collections every two months on the first of the month, so that it’s marked in our customers’ diaries?
The irony is that, while we have an Ann Summers autumn/winter collection, none of our lingerie will keep you warm, not least because it’s rarely on for very long. But for the same reason, it does generate a lot of heat.
- Jacqueline Gold is chief executive of Ann Summers