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Trial by television is a real turn-off

Is it wise for retailers to bare their commercial souls on television? Victoria suffield has doubts

I am sure I am not the only independent retailer who, approached by Mary Portas' production company to be part of her new BBC2 TV series Mary Queen of Shops, speedily declined the offer.

After a fleeting vision of fame and fortune, and of customers forming an orderly queue to worship at the altar that is The Hambledon, I had a worrying recollection of Steve Cochrane and the BBC television documentary about his Psyche store in Middlesbrough, and realised that I might be portrayed as a slightly unhinged megalomaniac. The fundamental reason for my reluctance to participate then began to surface.

I felt affronted that they had contacted me. I believe I have a lovely shop, and I had enough vanity to think if anyone had heard of The Hambledon, it wasn't because it was a paradigm of failure.

There has been huge pre-publicity for the show and I do feel myself coming over all voyeuristic schadenfreude at the prospect of seeing the tribulations of another shop. As an independent retailer, there are many things in the business about which I am secretive, protective and generally uptight, yet the promise of someone else baring their souls is too tantalising and I am just too nosey to resist. But seriously, I do admire the shopkeepers taking part - for having the courage to lay themselves open to public scrutiny and potential criticism. This, perhaps, was what I feared when I declined Mary's kind offer.

Independent retail is a rather difficult combination of skills and personality traits. On the one hand, we have to be very confident in our own judgement and ability, and we have to create individual stores with strong identities. But on the other hand, we should accept a degree of thoughtful criticism if it can benefit the business as a whole.

While retail consultancy as a whole has never chimed with my approach - because consultants usually work with large companies with whom I find it difficult to identify, and charge fees I find difficult to embrace - I am sure there is lots to be gained from an outside opinion and an informed, dispassionate eye. It is up to us to find and take our criticism where we can - from our staff, other professionals, customers and suppliers. But perhaps not under the unforgiving glare of a TV camera.

- Victoria Suffield is the owner of lifestyle retailer The Hambledon in Winchester, Hampshire.

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