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Drapers Interview preview: John Marquis

Drapers gives you a sneak-peek of this weekend’s anchor interview with John Marquis, store director at the Ulster Stores owned de Gruchy department store, in St Helier, Jersey.

How did you get your start in retail? I saw an advert in the Yorkshire Evening Post back in the 1970s’ and it said ‘could you handle a million pounds of our money?’ It was for a trainee manager for a department store in Leeds called Schofields, which was a prestigious store. I went for the interview and was fortunate enough to be recruited.

I then left to work in the real volume side of retail for Asda for a couple of years, before joining Habitat in 1980 – which was then Conran owned and run - for six years. In 1986 an oppprtunity with Topshop, which was then run by Ralph Halpern, came along and as I’d been the store manager at a flagship store, area management was the next logical step. So I went to the South West where I managed 21 stores, turning it into the second biggest turnover area outside of London by the time I left 3 ½ years later.

After that I joined menswear business Horne Brothers, before leaving to become regional controller at Richards, where I stayed for 12 months. However, when Sears purchased the business I was made redundant, so became a store manager at House of Fraser, where I spent 15 years managing different stores.  I then did a short two-year stint with IKEA and then Habitat, before coming to de Gruchy in 2011.

What attracted you to the role? I actually opened the first Topshop concession in de Gruchy in the late 1980s. So I knew of the store and its environment from a historic perspective. My father is also from the Channel Islands originally. However, it was working for an independent department store and the opportunity that that presented that was really attractive. Having worked for House of Fraser for 15 years, having done my original training in department stores and then in my career having had a multi-product background from habitat to fashion to menswear, it just brings it all together again. So the opportunity to come over here and to influence the direction of the business was very tempting.

What type of fashion brand is the Jersey consumer looking for? I would describe it as a mid to premium market, certainly from de Gruchy’s perspective.

Which brands are your bestsellers? From a womenswear perspective we’re very strong on Karen Millen, Oasis, LK Bennett. Mint Velvet has also been a great addition and has seen year on year growth over the last two years. From an own bought perspective because those are mainly concession related, we’ve had real success with Masai Clothing Company, Oska, NYDJ, and Gerry Weber has been very strong for us this season. From a menswear perspective Gant is probably our strongest brand. We’ve also got really good business with Tommy Hilfiger, Boss, and Paul Smith.

How has retail been faring in Jersey? We’ve probably trailed behind the UK in terms of the downturn. I think the last 12 months in particular have been quite challenging. There have been a number of changes to the island in terms of the financial employment situation and the financial industry. But overall it has probably proved more resilient than the UK.

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