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For all the cleverness of investors, great store staff make a business

The foot soldiers of fashion retail were put into the spotlight on Tuesday evening at the awards dinner for the We Love Retail competition, run by property company Hammerson.

At a jolly event at The London Marriott Hotel, Grosvenor Square, store staff who work for tenants of Hammerson’s 10 shopping centres, from Southampton WestQuay to Aberdeen’s Union Square, gathered to learn who had won the accolades for excellent customer service.

The initiative is based on a combination of yearly average mystery shop customer service scores and sales-related performance indicators. About 200 store managers and head office contacts attended the event - now in its third year - which was hosted enthusiastically by high street favourite Myleene Klass.

Well done to the teams from Radley (Bullring, Birmingham), Jones Bootmaker (Union Square), Phase Eight (The Oracle, Reading), Van Mildert (Silverburn, Glasgow), Reiss (The Oracle), The North Face (Highcross, Leicester), John Lewis (WestQuay and Brent Cross, London) and Next (Cyfarthfa Retail Park, Merthyr), who were the fashion victors among the 16 winners.

It was enjoyable for me to pick up on the friendly rivalry that was evident between the shopping centres themselves and the chains within them. It was crystal clear just how passionate these staff are about selling and keeping the customers happy. It was good fun to be among such an energetic young crowd - they are a crucial part of the experience that keeps consumers coming back to bricks-and-mortar retailers.

I did not see much mention of the 7,300 staff who work for House of Fraser - and let’s not forget the 12,000 concession staff - in all the coverage of the tortuous shenanigans surrounding its likely sale to Chinese conglomerate Sanpower. But there has been plenty about retailing magnates throwing their egos, toys and share certificates about as the future of this 160-year-old company is decided. By the time you read this, the deal may or may not have been signed. We may or may not have more of the details, including the minor point of what price the Chinese are going to pay and when, and in what form. And whether it still has to await the approval of the regulatory authorities in China.

At the centre of the furore is an 11% (or is it 11.1%?) stake sold by long-term HoF investor Sir Tom Hunter to Sports Direct, Mike Ashley’s company, a few days after the rest of the shareholders agreed to back the Sanpower deal that had been brokered by the HoF chairman Don McCarthy. Apart from McCarthy, his family and Hunter, the significant shareholders were (or more correctly as I write this, still are) effectively, the administrators or successors of two failed Icelandic financial houses, Landsbanki and Glitnir, and Kevin Stanford, one-time owner of Karen Millen and of All Saints.

I wonder if all these clever fellows rue the day they invested in House of Fraser. McCarthy has been trying to organise an exit for a couple of years at least and the Sanpower option appears to be the best bet. What’s not clear is why Hunter decided the deal was not for him. The Scottish entrepreneur has been quoted as saying he wanted Ashley’s cash now rather than the promise of Sanpower’s cash sometime in the future. Perhaps he did not believe the Sanpower deal would happen. Perhaps he needed the money in a hurry. Perhaps it is all part of a clever strategy with his friend and associate Ashley. Perhaps it was just a tiff between tycoons - who knows?

In the meantime, let’s spare a thought for the staff at HoF who almost certainly would like to know what their future holds.

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