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Memo from Musgrave: Did mangoes spark Rose’s love of Europe?

The 300 or so young delegates at our Next Generation event in spring 2014 were treated to a bravura performance from the then Sir Stuart Rose, who gave 40 minutes of often hilarious reminiscences about his retailing career.

Particularly amusing (with about 30 years’ hindsight) was his story of how he fell out with his Marks & Spencer boss Derek, Lord Rayner, on the tricky subject of mangoes.

Apparently Rayner told Rose, then head of M&S food, they should sell more mangoes from Thailand. Rose and his team tasted the wares and declared them “crap” (a technical term in the fresh fruit world?) and quietly ignored their boss’s directive. When Rayner learned of this, he instantly gave Rose a new job: running the M&S stores in France. 

Rose spent a couple of years in Parisian exile before leaving M&S in 1989 for the Burton Group. We do not know if this unexpected sojourn on the Champs-Élysées gave Stuart a love of continental life, but Lord Rose – he was made a Tory peer in September 2014 – is now the frontman for Britain Stronger in Europe, the clumsily named pressure group that is against the UK exiting the European Union.

If those who favour a Brexit (another terrible expression!) or any don’t-knows need charming into submission, Stuart is the man for the job. After all, he had the sometimes batty M&S shareholders eating out of his hand when he returned to run the business. Drapers readers will be pleased to hear we will not be filling our pages with every nuance of the arguments and every press release from either side of the In-Out debate, but we are genuinely interested in which decision you favour.

The received wisdom seems to be that retailers and brand owners would prefer to stay within the European structure – the continent is our main market for exports, of course. My own on-the-fence view is that I am happy with the idea of being part of a preferential trading agreement, but I don’t want the UK to become part of a European federal superstate.

The key element to help me decide which way to vote in a referendum would be what changes or exclusions the UK can negotiate with the bureaucrats of Strasbourg. I am not expecting much movement there. As always, we at Drapers would be delighted to hear your views.

Nearer home, I was fascinated to read extracts from the latest John Lewis Retail Report (see page 7), in which the store group reveals some aspects of its customers’ responses to social media. After Fearne Cotton wore one of JL’s Somerset by Alice Temperley dresses on Children in Need on the BBC, sales rocketed by 1,600%. Luckily, they had the stock!

The influence of outpourings on Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter and Facebook has helped create a new breed of omnichannel “master shopper”, John Lewis believes. It is necessary for every progressive retailer – of any size – to harness this potential, but if you are new to the social media game, let me tell you, based on Drapers’ own experience, it is very time-consuming and requires a dedicated person or team on the task rather than it being tacked on to someone’s existing role.

I have no doubt that there will be plenty of social media-savvy young people among our next 30 under 30 listing, which highlights talent to watch in all sectors of our industry. To nominate yourself or anyone else who will be 30 or under on January 9 2016 for consideration, please email and explain in just 200 or fewer words why you are one of the rising stars of the Drapers community.

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