Brutal business, retail. For his first eight years at Mothercare, Ben Gordon could do no wrong.
Brutal business, retail. For his first eight years at Mothercare, Ben Gordon could do no wrong. He took a business that was on its knees in 2002 and created a new model of an international brand as familiar in Shanghai as it was in Southend, one which many other non-food retailers have sought to emulate.
But one bad year, and he’s on his way. Gordon leaves Mothercare next month in much better shape than when he arrived, and with an international business that gives his successor an enviable platform for future growth.
It’s clear, however, that by putting so much energy and focus on international expansion, Mothercare took its eye off the core UK business. Because the international operation is franchised, the UK still represents by far the lion’s share of the company’s revenue but UK profits have slumped and the business hasn’t been quick enough to evolve its offer.
The company was already taking action to reduce the size of its store portfolio, and that is the right path – it just needs to be more radical. There is still a role for Mothercare and Early Learning Centre in the UK but with fewer stores, focused on out-of-town locations and with environments that inspire mums and kids respectively.
There is still a role for a bricks-and-mortar maternity specialist in the UK, offering inspiration and advice, in convenient locations as part of a comprehensive multichannel offer. Mothercare has the brands to do it, but it will require the bravery to make tough decisions from the new chief executive.
When we took 10 up-and-coming retail businesses to London’s Gherkin two years ago for a photo shoot, their enthusiasm had been undimmed by the banking crisis. Yet, as we now know, for retailers that was the phoney war, and since then things have become even tougher.
The retailers we picked should in theory have been in the firing line. All sell discretionary products and none is the cheapest in their market. While some are online-only, most sell through physical stores. So how pleasing to see them all not just surviving, but thriving.
By knowing their customer and offering quality products that those customers want, these true entrepreneurs have shown that great retail businesses can still do well, whatever the conditions.