In the wonderful and dynamic business of retailing it is absolutely certain that we must all be prepared to adapt and change, or decline and expire.
Every week brings fresh examples of ex-competitors who failed to grasp this simple but fundamental precept.
Sometimes this may present a bit of a challenge for those of us who must admit to being from the dinosaur tendency – and perhaps particularly for those like me who were born before 1950, and have accordingly become a little more set in our ways.
On occasions I have detected a touch of insensitivity and stubbornness among some of my contemporaries, who incline to a knee-jerk reaction against embracing change and “political correctness gone mad”.
One such area that has claimed my attention recently is that of gender and sexuality, which for most of my life seemed to me to be straightforward. For years I most genuinely thought LGBT was the acronym of a bus company.
But now, as traditional gender roles become ever more blurred and public sensitivity to LGBT issues grows, even those of my generation must surely recognise that the ‘truths’ we have accepted all our lives require some sensitive re-examination.
London Transport, bang in tune with the zeitgeist, recently stopped addressing their platform announcements to “ladies and gentlemen” and adopted “everyone” instead, to avoid offending those who might feel excluded.
I immediately amended my usual after-dinner speech introduction on the same lines, and for the very same reason.
“I do not believe that we are here to lead or shape society, but it is vital that we be quick to react to, and perhaps anticipate, consumers’ ever-changing needs”
“Everyone” is what I always meant – and, as retailers, our appeal must similarly embrace the whole of society, regardless of how an individual chooses to define their gender or sexual orientation.
Important as retailing is, I have never viewed it as a mission.
In my view our aim and purpose is simply to sell products, recognise and meet a demand, and make profits to reinvest – in our own businesses and people, and in the wider public good through the tax revenues we generate.
I do not believe that we are here to lead or shape society, but it is vital that we be quick to react to, and perhaps anticipate, consumers’ ever-changing needs.
I don’t know about you but I most definitely want to sell as many of my wares as possible to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender customers embraced by the traditional acronym, and indeed to all those who are LGBTQIA+ or even LGBTIQCAPGNGFNBA (look it up).
We cannot fail to recognise the obvious opportunity presented by gender-neutral clothes and toys, and understand the sensitivities around the provision of gender-neutral toilets and changing rooms.
Our challenge as shopkeepers is to remain aloft, balancing on the high wire between those who have strong – even passionate – feelings on both sides of that particular issue, as we must navigate between the lobby group who would have us stop advertising in certain newspapers, and our legions of customers who are dedicated readers of those titles.
I have been lucky enough to have spent my career selling sofas, a unisex family-friendly product if ever there was one.
Nevertheless, I am now applying my mind to how current thinking on inclusivity may impact on the sales of upholstered furniture, refrigerators, rowing machines and other hefty ticket items which appeal to all regardless of age, race, class, creed, gender or sexuality.
If you are an open-minded, forward-thinking, mainstream retailer, and want your business to continue prospering in our fast-changing society, I strongly urge you to do the same.
- Lord Kirkham is the founder of DFS