Vaughan Gordon

Mary Portas…Marketing Queen

By Vaughan Gordon

Did you see Mary Queen of Shops this week..?

The struggling business this time was John Peers Salon in Rotherham. Mary Portas soon identified the failings of John Peers, the British Hairdresser of the Year winner back in the 80s. He quite simply needed to listen. ‘Really is that all?’ you may say. Well, yes – she taught him a valuable lesson: to take the time to listen to what his clients actually wanted.

Since his initial success two decades ago, John had fallen into the danger zone where he presumed to know best and then imposed his ideas on his clients. Mary managed to get John to open his mind, move with the times, reconnect with his clients and understand exactly who they were and what they wanted. He always had the technical ability, but had just lost any connection with them.

So with that in mind, they went out onto the streets, talked to potential clients to research what they wanted and how much they would be prepared to pay. They then rebranded and repositioned the salon as ‘fashion hair at high street prices’, a clever concept that follows the clothing market a la H&M and TopShop. John Peers would never have bought this concept had Mary not taught him some valuable marketing principles. He was actually quite moved at the end when he realized he felt ‘alive’ again and his team felt excited and enthused about going to work again.

This made me think how many companies fall into this same old trap. They may have a great service at any one time, but it’s essential to stay in touch with their market to ensure they are still delivering and meeting their needs. If the mighty M&S can be accused of complacency (as they were in the noughties) and make a staggering comeback, then we can all learn our lesson.

By simply following some simple marketing principles, I believe businesses can at least stay ‘safe’. By “safe” I mean continuing the dialogue between themselves and the customer. Keep the communications channels open both ways. Let them guide the company to their changing needs. No need to push a product which the market simply doesn’t want, thinking it’s gonna sell; square peg, round hole springs to mind.

I was at a recent expo for local businesses and I talked to one sole trader who swore blind that no-one would look for his type of business online. He wouldn’t open his mind to the idea of using any online marketing channels, even though many are very cheap, if not free. Yet he paid for a stand and spent a whole day out of the office, trying to sell his business to a small group of local companies who, as he said, ‘were not really the right people’.

Another John Peers maybe? I’d love to see what Mary Portas could teach him…

Nicola Peaty, Director – VG&A