Retail Reflections: Janet’s Clarion call

Alan Monahan writes: I suppose that Janet Street-Porter could be placed in the Marmite category: you either love her or hate her. Me? I think she’s okay. In fact, I always read her column in the i newspaper on Saturdays.

I’m not sure that Janet would class herself as a retail expert. But Clarion Events obviously thought she had something worthwhile to say, which is why the show organiser invited her to speak at Home & Gift. Perhaps they also wanted a ‘name’ – and with a home in North Yorkshire she happened to be right on the doorstep.

Anyway, I joined scores of retailers and suppliers in the Harrogate International Centre to hear her speak about the importance of ‘Made in Britain’ products as the UK heads towards Brexit.

After a somewhat awkward introduction, which saw our keynote speaker struggle with the on-stage seating, she was eased into the session by a gentle interlocutor.

I’m not sure what the audience expected, but if buyers hadn’t just come to see Janet I wonder how much they actually learned and will be able to implement. I think they knew that to stand out in an overcrowded marketplace it’s important to focus on quality, quirkiness, innovation and something that “surprises you”.

We certainly chuckled our approval when Janet cited Beefeaters, Twiggy and Carnaby Street to stress that in Britain we continued to dwell in the past instead of focusing on our “fabulous, contemporary high-end designers and manufacturers”. Today was about the shopping experience and creating a back story to promote British brands so that product was coveted by the global consumer for the long term.

I know that we live in an age of political correctness, but hey, as I’m older than Janet I’ll say it anyway – she looks great at 70. And as with many senior citizens she admitted to owning loads of “stuff”. Like her, something has to be pretty special for me to buy it for the home these days.

Janet Street Porter

We heard about Janet’s love of British brands John Lewis Conran, Clarks, Linton Tweeds and Doreen’s Black Pudding, and also found out about her treasured possessions. Then, after some 25 minutes and a trickle of questions, it was all over.

I suspect that some retailers would have liked to hear a little more about gift products. But to be fair, Janet responded to the questions she was asked and stuck to her brief.

So, well done Clarion Events for securing a high profile personality whose views are as relevant as those of any shopper in the land. Janet certainly made a welcome change from some of the session-filling speakers who do the rounds of gift and home events.