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Memo from Musgrave: Theatre of dreams stretches from Norwich to Boston, Massachusetts

Observant followers of may have noticed that I have been in Boston, Massachusetts, this week with Primark as it made its debut in the US of A.

Fun though it was to see the value-fashion powerhouse wow the Americans, as it has wowed nine other nationalities, I was somewhat frustrated that my transatlantic schedule prevented me from honouring a long-time promise to visit Jarrolds of Norwich on the occasion of the official opening of the family-owned department store’s new women’s fashion floor.

In New England, the team from Primark was justly proud of what retail design studio Dalziel & Pow had achieved in remodelling the former Filene’s Basement department store, which was a Boston landmark from its opening in 1912 to its closure 94 years later.

Yet over in East Anglia, designers Simon May from Furniss & May and Mark Brown from Now London were operating in a building dating from the 1840s (and don’t forget the Jarrold family firm traces its roots back to 1770). The fruits of their labour in Norwich have already been celebrated on

I cannot recall the turnover of Jarrolds, but I know for certain it is a few shekels below the £4bn-plus that Primark has built up since the legendary Arthur Ryan started the business as Penneys in Dublin in 1969.

Physical stores are an essential component of retailing success for most fashion retailers

The East Anglian retailer has scarcely ventured beyond Norwich, while Primark/Penneys is now in 10 countries across two continents, yet both believe in a simple tenet of fashion retailing: the physical store must attract, delight, inspire and satisfy the target consumers.

I say “bravo” to director Michelle Jarrold and the rest of the team in Norwich for their commitment to bricks-and-mortar retailing. Primark, God bless ‘em, are too busy selling zillions of its low-cost items through its 292 stores in now 10 countries to worry about what it is allegedly missing by not having a transactional website.

Physical stores are an essential component of retailing success for most fashion retailers. Those that disagree were not with me in Boston to see about 2,000 customers charge into the Primark store on September 10.

Primark CEO Paul Marchant joined the fashion retailing game 31 years ago as a 16-year-old sales assistant for the menswear chain Horne Brothers (ancient readers, like me, will remember it). He is happy to explain, in words of one syllable, why Primark does not need a transactional website. It is too busy creating inspiring physical retail stores.

Back in my own professional world, I am continually amused by people (none of them journalists) who keep bleating that “print is dead”. Threatening a fracas at luggage check-in, I have just bought the September edition of US Vogue, which comprises a stunning 832 (yes 8-3-2) pages.

Whether it’s nonsense about the end of physical stores or about the imminent domination of online trading, I am reminded of the sage words of English philosopher Bertrand Russell, who observed: “The fact that an opinion has been widely held is no evidence whatever that it is not utterly absurd.”

Readers' comments (1)

  • Such words of wisdom from the Master. Well done to both parties for showing a professional way to do their business. Bricks and mortar along with the written word are far from dead!

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