THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Innovation and enterprise blog

13 November 2018

Q&A with the Queen of Shops, Mary Portas

We couldn’t resist asking the Queen of Shops herself, Mary Portas, a few pressing questions before she takes to the stage at Inspiring Entrepreneurs: Work Like A Woman with Mary Portas.

Some of our Innovating for Growth graduates and Ambassador, Julie Deane OBE, picked Mary’s brain on surviving in business during a challenging economic climate, the rise of digital and more. Here's what they asked...

Alice Asquith, founder and creative director of Asquith: 

With the closure of some key High Street stores, what advice would you give to someone starting out in this rather challenging retail climate?

It depends on where you want to place yourself. The future of great High Street retail will be around experience, knowledge and incredible service. If you can put that at the heart of your business and you believe your offer is unique and relevant to that market and you’re not being screwed over on rent, you have a chance. There’s so much more I’d ask you but these are the first things you should be asking yourself. Why would somebody make the effort to come to my shop? if you can cover the above you have a chance.

Where would you recommend for women to network if they’d like to meet other like-minded retail business owners?

There are hundreds if not thousands of great networking groups across many sectors. They all offer different things so it’s totally dependent on what you’re looking for right now. If you can’t find one that’s giving you what you need, start your own.

What would you say are the key ingredients and factors to successful collaborations with likeminded partners?

Understand the word collaboration. A symbiotic relationship where both parties benefit and support each other. Collaboration is about being better together than apart. Often collaborations are done with one thinking about their benefit alone. You need to consider your collaborator’s reputation and how they’ll benefit too.

Julie Deane OBE, founder of Cambridge Satchel Company:

Should businesses concentrate on establishing themselves in their home market before casting their eyes overseas?

Absolutely. And especially when you’re selling something that’s connected culturally to your market. I’ve seen too many business who’ve gone international and the power of their brand back home has eroded.

Rowena Howie, founder of Revival Retro:

Up and down the country there are small specialist shops providing a remarkable in store experience whilst trying to respond to a digital economy. What advice does the Queen of Shops have for bricks and clicks micro-businesses trying to pay a living wage, offer flexible working and create opportunities for amazing people, whilst still paying rampant rents, unfair rates and facing competition on a global level? Where do you consider the focus should be for small retailers looking to grow and create opportunity?

Focus on community, customer experience and identity. If you nail those three you stand a chance.

 

If you missed Mary's talk, you can catch up on our YouTube channel.