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Mary Mary where you goin' to?

Mary Portas

This week Mary Portas, the retail guru, went to Orpington to makeover Save the Children. Now I’ve always been a bit cynical when it comes to reality TV programmes, believing for the most part that the ingredients are for effect and not much else. However after watching the latest episode, I have changed my mind. Could it be that Mary genuinely cares about the case of the underperforming charity shop? She has certainly taken on a monster challenge. It’s one thing tackling ailing independent boutiques that are working stores with proper staff, however with charity shops it’s a very different scenario.

The first problem is that most of the staff are voluntary. When someone works for free it is very difficult to come over too heavy, as you would with paid staff. The second problem was that most of the work force are little old biddies who have been volunteering for years; any change is painful and fiercely resisted. Add to that the fact that they are so excruciatingly slow….. and with Mary on London time…..I’m not sure how she kept her cool.

Though they were clearly driving her insane, the Queen of Shops did not seem to patronise or belittle the staff. She showed true compassion and was moved by the characters she worked with. So much so that she seem to genuinely relish taking all the dears out for Christmas dinner to let their hair down. I loved 93 year old Lila and her filthy jokes ‘ Why doesn’t Santa have any kids? Because he only comes once a year…. down a chimney….’  I mean really Lila!

TV or no TV programme Mary is a retail professional who knows her stuff. She began educating the ‘grey army’ with sheer determination and a steadfast no-nonsense approach. It took months but she eventually won then over and the relaunch of the store saw them take £996 in 2 hours!  Mary has the experience and character needed to take apart and put back together the existing charity shop model to begin treating it like modern retail. The sad fact is that charity shops are usually part of a community and offer a social aspect to the OAPS that frequent them. By changing the strategy she will undoubtedly increase sales but probably at the expense of the indirect community service that they provide.

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