Your browser is no longer supported. For the best experience of this website, please upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Dreaming of youthful enthusiasm

Michael Ashison wishes his young staff shared his excitement at the start of a new year in retail

One of the good things about January is that it gives us an opportunity to put aside the negative aspects of the previous year and begin the next season with a clean slate.

To say 2006 was a difficult year for retail is stating the obvious. As a retailer, I can't influence the Treasury or predict the weather, although the past has shown that winter has never started in August.

I do try to influence what happens when people enter one of our shops, which brings me to my biggest gripe - customer service. I've noticed that I sound more and more like my dad in that I complain endlessly about young people, more specifically the 16- to 25-year-olds. I try to understand them and their issues, but I am stumped if I can explain the lack of desire to work hard and succeed.

Every staff meeting brings a litany of excuses as to why targets were not met and why sick days are so conveniently always after a heavy night out.

We do try to motivate and encourage our staff. I guess there are not many businesses of our size - four shops and about 50 staff including part-timers - that invest in monthly training, which involves bringing in an outside consultant to help deal with any issues that may arise and to keep staff fresh and motivated. Don't get me wrong, we do have some highly motivated staff, without whom this business would not be the success it is, but they tend to be the exception to the rule.

A friend, recently returned from the US, commented on the difference in attitude to service jobs. Over there the general view among staff seemed to be that a job is a job, no matter how small or mundane, and should be done with some degree of pride and professionalism. Why are we so different? My dad would say we have it too easy. So what can be done? Is it a job for the government? Better parenting? Or is it too late?

Anyway, back to the future. One of our strategies for next year is to raise our average customer spend by offering better and more exclusive product.

We found last year that although we sold the same amount of individual items as previous years, the average spend was down. It was interesting to notice how prices have been driven down during the past few years - as we offer more and more synthetic product as opposed to leather - without us being aware of this.

It is so easy to fall into the trap of buying what is selling now and not developing product for the future.

As for predicting winning styles, I can't see past the usual suspects - Birkenstock, Converse, Crocs - but it is early days. What I do know is that anyone without a healthy open-to-buy budget could be in trouble.

- Michael Ashison co-owns footwear and clothing business Bullfrogs in London.

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.