JEM Retail Consultants providing services in buying and merchandising, Programme Management, IT services and Logistics & Warehousing.

Thursday, 27 October 2016

What A Year...

Good grief, it has been a long time since our last blog and that's mainly down to my colleagues and myself being busy on various projects. Erica has been, and indeed still is at Thomas Pink as interim COO whilst Mike has been programme managing a major programme with M&S.

My time has been a bit more varied with a number of different projects as I have branched out and tried new avenues.

Rewarding but also hugely emotionally challenging...

The first and biggest achievement for me has been becoming a volunteer counsellor at Childline, the journey started Xmas 2014 when I saw Esther Rantzen on TV talking about Childline and saying that they were always looking for volunteers to work on the switchboard. I thought to myself 'surely I could do that' and I determined there and then to apply to Childline and become a switchboard operator. Well this set me out on a 10 month journey from application through completion of training over a 3 month period to the point of becoming not a switchboard operator but a counsellor and October 2015 saw me taking my first unassisted session. I have now completed a year counselling with Childline, the whole experience has been amazing, exceptionally rewarding but also hugely emotionally challenging. On some level, I expected all of that but what I had not considered and could be the most special thing about Childline is that everyone at Childline is so lovely. My previous life experiences have been that wherever you are be it at work, at your club or just going about your daily business, you meet a variety of individuals and invariably that will include a number of people that may be bullies, gossips or just generally uncaring and unkind. Well at Childline you just walk into an environment where everyone is just so lovely, kind and gentle and it is so refreshing and enlightening.

Fancy offices, company cars and expense accounts?

My other change in direction has been the project management work at my Golf Club. My contract with XPO being a part time contract left me with the time and financial ability to give some time to the Club to project manage their new website implementation. This presented its own challenges, in a huge shift for me from working on projects with budgets of several million pounds to a project with a budget of less than £25k. Working with small to medium sized suppliers has been an eye opener for me in the quality and level of support received which easily compared if not bettered that I had previously experienced with some of the top tier major Suppliers. It has left me questioning how do those big Suppliers justify their costs where is all that money going? - maybe fancy offices, company cars and expense accounts?! Working with the very small team at the Club has also been hugely rewarding and an eye opener for myself as to how much I do have to offer in terms of experience and 'how to' approach all aspects of project management and Supplier relationship and where needed get down and dirty in to the nitty gritty stuff. In addition it has also been refreshing to be working in an environment free of corporate politics and red tape. Maybe one of the biggest challenges has been with the Members and anyone who is a Member of a private Golf Club will understand exactly what I am saying. But the new public site is now life and its still safe for me to go in to the members bar!

So what next you say, well I am hoping that I can continue working for small medium sized business such as the Golf Club, maybe a new start up or even a charity. Watch this space...

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

JEM Newsletter - March 2014

So the hugely advertised and long anticipated Retail Business Technology Expo (RBTE) 2014 held at Earl's Court on the 11th and 12th March is now over. JEM were there on stand 492 and we met with some great people who had interesting and sometimes unique retail businesses. The technology suppliers were also there in force with new and innovative offerings especially in the personalised shopping arena.

The website for the RBTE reports that this was the most successful event to date with record visitor numbers and a wide range of technology to explore. All visitors to the JEM stand were entered into a prize draw for the fabulous Stella and Dot necklace and the lucky winner is Aine Beatty - congratulations Aine!

Amongst the many exhibitors JEM stood out as being the only specialist consultancy. This was a great opportunity as we were able to give independent advice to retailers with a very diverse range of business requirements, as well as talk to suppliers about the strength of their products and the types of retail operation they are targeting. This really supported our agnostic approach to suppliers as it puts us in an ideal position to identify the best solution for each retailer's unique requirements.

Jane gets on her bike!

One such business was a London based bicycle retailer with a genuine passion for their product. Having recently expanded their already successful operation and moved to new premises this retailer is seeking a robust, functionally rich store system to manage their operation today and for the future. A key focus is on delivering a very personal CRM experience consistent with their brand identity.

Advice from Erica that is fit for purpose!

Amongst the more unusual conversations was a retail proposition demanding surgical precision! Started by a leading orthopaedic consultant with a flair for the entrepreneurial this unique business aims to capitalise on the potential for growth in the health sector created by the privatisation of the NHS and the awarding of contracts to independent providers. The result is a combination of retail space with treatment rooms and an exercise studio.

JEM launch start-up support.

Following the amount of interest at the RBTE from both start-up operations as well as those experiencing growing pains, JEM have decided to add to our services by providing consultancy aimed specifically at these requirements. Keep an eye on our website for more information.

Written by Jane Fransen-Hale: Director JEM Retail Consultants

Monday, 17 February 2014

Is It Time To Reshore Retail Manufacturing?

It's London Fashion Week again which inevitably leads us to discuss the dilemma of having fabulous UK Designers but nowhere in the UK to manufacture. But is this still true? For large volume brands the answer, sadly, may well be "Yes" but is it time the big "super" brands had a re-think about their source of supply?


The land that gave the world the Spinning Jenny (a means of multi-spooling cotton that kick-started the Industrial Revolution in this country) was in the ascendancy for hundreds of years. One by one, however, the great manufacturers fled to Asia where production and staffing costs were lower.

In 2000 Courtaulds closed in Worksop. In 2007 Burberry closed its Rhondda factory. Now we find ourselves exporting the machinery to manufacture rather than the garments. The sad fact is that 90% of the clothes we wear are manufactured outside the UK with a nett import value of £12.5 billion. The business of actually making clothes seemed dead.

So are there signs of a revival? It would seem so. Marks and Spencer are producing a " Best of British" range, although it is currently a very small number of designs. This collection is made in Hinkley with around 20 other factories actually manufacturing here.

Apart from flying the flag for Britain, this makes sound commercial sense as the lead times are so much shorter and the cost of logistics significantly reduced. Speed to market is key in fashion and shorter lead times make it possible to purchase "little and often" improving cash flow and reducing the amount of cash tied up in stock. My colleague Mike is passionate that retail Distribution Centres should do exactly that, distribute, and this greater responsiveness makes it possible to reduce the requirements for warehouse space.

In my role as a Retail Consultant I have analysed the supply base of many retailers, both big and small. I have looked at country of origin and supplier / factory performance and in most cases the nett profit of garments manufactured in the UK and the rest of Europe is vastly superior to buying from the Far East and India once all the costs are taken into account. I'm shocked how often the measure of profitability of an individual buyer is "intake margin". The cash generated by a garment has to be viewed with transparency of true costs of logistics and cash invested in stock over time. My findings have always come as a surprise to CEO's who can forget that as always "Retail is about the Detail".

Kate Hills has set up bringing production back to the UK. In June she will launch the first trade show for buyers, brands, factories and makers, bringing them all together at the Old Truman Brewery in East London. It's a great chance to quantify what's out there. Hills says she has a database of around 1,000 factories and units, but nobody knows for sure what's left of the industry. We are missing some things entirely: Component makers for lingerie; shirting producers for men's formal shirts; a maker of high-heeled women's boots and general lining makers. "Things are coming back, but slower than they should be" concedes Hills. "We still lack infrastructure".

A note of warning to these factories is not to put all their eggs in one basket. It's great that M&S are pushing British products, but remember they were one of the biggest culprits in the demise of UK manufacturing and the suppliers that made solely for M&S went out of business.

Ultimately the health of British fashion manufacturing may well rest on whether we can develop the skill base we need fast enough. That and the fact that the majority of people who work in manufacturing are over 40 so we need more young people in the profession. There are some great schemes being set up: ASOS have established a stitching school. The British Fashion Council has set up "Fashion Enter" to offer apprenticeships.

However it is currently the case (and may always be) that the UK cannot compete for the lower end of fashion who manufacture in Bangladesh, where prices are low and large volumes can be manufactured cheaply, but we must be able to compete at the higher end. John Miln, Chief Executive of the UK Fashion and Textile Association said: "In the UK manufacturing industry for menswear, formal wear continues to be strong. Unlike the high street where business is tough, formal wear and tailoring is holding its own. There is plenty of fabric production in the UK from locations such as Yorkshire where there are some great suppliers, particularly of wool, operating well".

John Smedley produces from the world's oldest working factory - manufacturing began in 1784 just 20 years after Hargreaves' invention of the Spinning Jenny - and employs about 400 people across 3 factories in Derbyshire and Yorkshire. Ian Maclean, the brand's Managing Director, is the eighth generation family member to run the business and has big plans. The group makes about 400,000 garments a year, of which 60% are exported. Japan is its biggest export market, followed by Italy, Germany, France and Russia.

Mulberry has long made its products in the UK and is a rare example of a British luxury brand continually investing in the production of leather goods in the UK. A second Somerset factory will open later this year beginning a new chapter in a manufacturing story that is local in impact but global in reputation.

So there are definitely signs we may become a significant manufacturer again, but it is likely to be vastly different from the past. The luxury brands who claim to be "British" in particular should now show that they support manufacturing here and customers need to play their part by demanding to know where garments are made. It's no longer a legal requirement to label garments with country of origin but if it doesn't say "Made in Britain" then it probably isn't. If we can take some of the £12.5 billion away from imports and into UK infrastructure we will have a viable industry, which can invest in training and make this a choice of profession desirable to young people.

"Make it British" is launching the first and only sourcing event exclusively for British clothing, textile and leather goods manufacturers this summer, called "Meet the Manufacturer". This major 2-day event, held at The Old Truman Brewery in London's East End on the 11th and 12th June 2014, will showcase the best British manufacturers in the fashion and textile industry.

Let's hope the leaders of our fashion brands go along and start placing orders!

Written by Erica Vilkauls: Director JEM Retail Consultants

2 Down, 10 to Go!

My New Year's resolution in 2014 was to take part in a 10k event every month (notice I don't say run in a 10k event). January was a rainy seafront in Cleethorpes, this month it was a beautiful, if rather cold, morning at Catterick in Yorkshire. How did I get on?

As I lined up at the start line with 218 other people my heart sank a little when I heard the race Marshall describe the course as "undulating at best." He turned out to be a master of the under statement!

The, admittedly scenic, route through the Yorkshire countryside took in several hills that proved more than a challenge for my mediocre level of fitness, the second of which at around the 6.5k mark reducing me to a forward (just) stumble that couldn't be described as "running" by even the most generous of onlookers.

The event started at the Phoenix House Recovery Centre based at Catterick Garrison and was held to raise money for the charity Help for Heroes. Phoenix House is run by the charity and forms part of the Defence Recovery Capability. Their aim is to "inspire those who have suffered from life changing injuries or illnesses while serving our country and enable them to lead active, independent and fulfilling lives."

One of 4 specialist centres in the UK offering support in the form of education, vocational training, welfare, sport and vocational training even visiting Phoenix House and reading about their lives is simultaneously uplifting and humbling. Read some of the Hero Stories on their website and you'll see what I mean.

That hill, rising 50m in little more than half a kilometre, then continuing to rise gradually for around another 700m proved my undoing and it took me a disappointing 67 minutes to complete the course, finishing an inglorious 203rd out of 219 participants.

But I am undaunted! 2 months gone and 2 events completed. Just hope the next course is a little flatter!

Written by Mike Gamble: Director JEM Retail Consultants

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Omni-Channel - The People Issues

"Multichannel retailing is the use of a variety of channels in a customer's shopping experience, including research before a purchase. Such channels include: retail stores, online stores, mobile stores, mobile app stores, telephone sales and any other method of transacting with a customer. Transacting includes browsing, buying, returning as well as pre and post sales service." So says Wikipedia!

Since our last blogs about retailers potentially seeing systems to manage the omni-challenge as a panacea to their trading problems, I'm heartened to see at last that a few people are starting to get a sense of perspective about what this truly means.... and that's NOT a great IT system alone. I am not, of course linking our small contribution to any change of understanding amongst retailers and analysts! For previous articles take a look at "Why Retail Can Never Be Led By Technology" and "What Does Omni-Channel Mean and Can Every Retailer Deliver It?"

The whole omni-channel way of working is not about a system, it's about a retail business putting customer needs first and letting them buy what they want, how they want, and acquiring it from a store, a delivery, or via click and collect. Omni-channel retailing allows (ideally) a totally seamless journey of the product to the customer. To do this, retailers must look at how they operate internally. The traditional silos of Buying and Merchandising for bricks and mortar stores, teams for online, operations departments just for stores, separate international teams, wholesale teams, franchise teams - all these have to go! How many retailers are brave enough to do that?

This is highlighted in Retail Week by Martin Newman from Practicology: "....most customers don't think about the organisational structures of the retailers they buy from when they are crossing channels, switching devices and updating their social media feeds on their latest purchase." And why should they?

I know of a number of "Business transformation" projects about to start but guess who is running them? The IT Directors! No offence to them at all but the technical side comes further down from the start of any such project (the give away is the word "Business"). First should be the strategic direction and process, then how the organisation should be structured to successfully deliver this strategy. Are the capabilities even there? What type of people are needed and with what skills? Conventional Buyers and Merchandisers may need to "up-skill". Who really has the luxury to have both digital and bricks and mortar specialists? In reality it shouldn't be difficult to improve skills - despite those in the digital world portraying what they do as some higher level of intelligence! Those businesses who scoop up people who can work across sales channels will win against those who keep channels separate.

Ian Geddes, Head of Retail from Deloitte says "business strategy skills, creativity, and knowing how to deliver technology in a more agile way are also necessary." I couldn't agree more. The 6 major challenges identified by Deloitte to successful omni-channel retailing (from start to end) are:

  • Supply Chain and Cost to Serve
  • Consistent product offer
  • Single view of the customer
  • Operational / functional silos
  • Culture, measures and incentives
It seems to me that far too many projects have started without the people skills and structures being considered and defined (as well as costed!) together with the long term strategic goals of the business being clearly defined and used to ensure projects will deliver what they need to deliver.

From my experience it's not rocket science to pull together a multi-channel, international business process (lengthy possibly if you want to keep it simple, and you should) and select the correct IT system and system provider. But, changing traditional internal structures with all the various egos and power plays that go on can be really difficult and is hugely disruptive to day to day trading.

That is when it's worth investing in consultants who can guide you through and provide best practice untainted by any other agenda. The consultants must take all the teams with them and the only person who can ensure all this works successfully is the CEO of the business. How many are brave enough to  tackle what needs to be done to make their business truly omni-channel? Far more, I feel, will stop short of this and retain their silo structures.

No IT system on it's own, however sophisticated, can achieve the true omni-channel experience for customers. This year will be very interesting!

Written by Erica Vilkauls: Director JEM Retail Consultants

Monday, 3 February 2014

The Networker

As you leave the house for your morning commute to work, the early bird Networker will already be ensconced at his breakfast meeting tucking into a full English breakfast and copious cups of coffee. Later that same day as you sit back on your sofa with a glass of wine and maybe tucking into your evening meal while watching your favourite soaps, the night owl Networker will have just arrived at his local meeting place and be supping his first glass of cheap wine from a plastic cup whilst surveying his surroundings and searching out his new prey.


So who is this Networker, what does he do, and does it work? Well, in the second half of 2013, in an attempt to promote an independent venture with little or no marketing budget, I became a Networker somewhat by chance and somewhat by design. The design part being to take the advice of fellow independent business owners, which went along the lines of....

"Oh you don't want to spend your money on printed advertising or even a website. You must get out there and Network."

Of course I googled "Networking" and put in my location and "Good grief!" I was amazed at the choice and possibilities open to me. I could join up to a networking / or meet-up group for every interest I could possibly have and those I hadn't even thought of. Ploughing through: KENS Events, Italian Food Lovers, and a Ladies Lap Dancing group, I signed myself up for what sold itself as a business networking group which met in the local synagogue.

With some trepidation I arrived for my first evening thinking "I'll just do this one, chat to some people, get some contacts and that will be that." How wrong was I? Very soon I was approached by Networkers inviting me to their "other" groups and naively taking up all invitations from this and subsequent meetings I found myself attending either a morning or evening group twice a week for the following 6 weeks! On my travels I come across a few hard core Networkers who must be spending 40% of their working day at Networking do's and soon came to establish that these people were picking up 70% - 90% of their new business through Networking in this manner.

There are many different and varied business Networking groups. Each will follow a slightly different format and have various levels of formality and, I have to say, different levels of success. In all of the meetings everyone is given between 30 seconds to 3 minutes to stand up in front of the group and talk about what they do and what they are selling. This becomes a skill in itself, to promote your business and services in this brief time frame, and your success here determines how many people will subsequently approach you during the "mingle" session afterwards. For the evening meetings assume you are at a business cocktail party and have plenty of business cards with you. The Breakfast meetings are not a favourite of mine, purely because I am definitely not a morning person and struggle to find my voice and charisma over breakfast.

The big tip for Networking is "follow-up". If you meet someone who could be useful to you, don't let it drop - contact them after the meeting and follow-up.

There are national and international groups and there are some profit making groups with heavy subscription fees. These normally come with rules and regulations around joining and participating and possibly have their own handshake that as a guest I didn't get to experience. There are groups that are not run for profit with a small fee payable in advance or on the door to just cover the expenses.

There is no shortcut here. You must go to several different meetings until you find the one for you with the right level of formality and process to get you the referrals and business you are seeking and enough interest to keep you going. For me, I like the meetings where there is an interesting speaker and have learnt a great deal about Networking that relates to both small and large businesses.

The all important ingredient here is the other Networkers at the meeting. Are they right for you and your business? A wide range of people from all types of organisations go Networking and these people themselves may be good for you, or know someone who knows someone. Remember you are only ever 5 people away from Royalty etc etc. The Networker is there to Network for themself, but is there to help you too - Networking works both ways.

I expected the majority of my fellow Networkers would be individuals with small, independent businesses, with maybe 1 - 5 employees at the most, but this is not necessarily the case. As marketing and advertising costs soar and social media and online sites such as LinkedIn flourish, "Networking" is becoming more and more popular and relevant for the medium and even large sized businesses looking to win business off testimonials, word of mouth and goodwill instead of expensive, glossy advertisements in trade magazines.

So before you next go to print, think again. Think "Network!"

Anyone looking for a friendly, informal and informative Networking groups, with great speakers in North West London, try out the NW London Business Network on LinkedIn or at

Written by Jane Fransen-Hale: Director JEM Retail Consultants

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Blunkett vs Brand

In the keynote address at the first Good Society Lecture of 2014 held by The Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) David Blunkett argued that the "rantings" of comedians like Russell Brand are dangerous as they may deter young people from voting. How right is he? Is this really the thing that discourages us from voting or is it the politicians themselves?

According to Brand politicians are "untrustworthy and irrelevant." He claims "I'm angry because for me it's real. This is what I come from.... There is going to be a revolution." So says the multi millionaire with a house in California, but even his inquisitor Jeremy Paxman thinks he has a point, describing the political choice in this country as "unappetising" and adding "It won't be a bombshell if very large numbers of the electorate simply don't bother to vote. People are sick of the tawdry pretences."

Blunkett claims that Brand risks "undermining democracy" by encouraging people not to vote, but is he really that influential or does the solution lie elsewhere? I have some alternative ideas as to why people might stay away from the ballot box but first a few facts: In the last 50 years voter turnout in the UK has fallen from 77.1% to 65.1% although this is an improvement on the low of 59.4% in 2001. This compares unfavourably to 79.5% in France and a European average of around 70%. So why don't more of us exercise this most important of democratic rights?

For most people there may seem little point. In 2010 there was a 5.6% swing from labour, one of its worst ever results, but only 118 of the 532 contested seats changed hands i.e. the people living in less than a quarter of all constituencies actually determined the result. The elected MP had a winning majority of less than 6% in just 111 seats. I experience this myself as I live within a very safe Conservative seat. Even in the days of the large Labour majority my local politician won by over 4,000 votes so does my vote matter? If I don't want to vote Conservative should I tactically vote for UKIP despite my abhorrence for their political viewpoint? Unappetising indeed.

This is something that is unlikely to change for at least a generation. The two largest political parties will not support electoral reform, not because they don't think it would be more democratic, but because it is not in their interests, and if I start on the issue of an unelected second chamber then it will be me ranting!

Politician fatigue. The expenses scandal - claims for duck houses, clearing moats and tuning pianos amongst other things - showed politicians to be the amoral, self-interested, profiteering low lifes that most of them are. Their routine defence? They didn't do anything outside the rules. Well, maybe not, but surely they can see that didn't make it right? Don't think this has stopped either. Figures show that MP's claimed a total of £98m in 2012/13 a big increase on the £95.4m in 2008/09. "Snouts" and "troughs" spring to mind.

More soundbite than substance. The immediacy of social media, particularly Twitter, make the snappy one liner more important than ever before. So important in fact that it may be difficult for a politician to be successful without mastering this aspect of their performance. Is this at the expense of there actually being something behind the rhetoric? Watching PM questions I suspect so.

The rise of the career politician. Speaking personally I want to feel that our politicians have lived and worked in the real world before being elected. I'm very uncomfortable with the number who have never worked away from the political arena as "Special Advisers". In it together? I think not.

"Lies, damned lies, and statistics." Mark Twain had it right. Why can't they give a straight answer to a question or express a personal opinion? Instead they quote statistics at each other or fall back on claiming that however bad things look, they would look worse if the other party was running things. Tiresome. This might explain why Boris Johnson is so popular. He may seem ridiculous on occasion but at least he actually says something and lets you know what he thinks.

Is it symptomatic of a lack of engagement in society in general? I'm not sure "the good old days" ever actually existed but are we now less likely than before to see ourselves as part of a larger society or community? Would we break up a fight or check on elderly neighbours? No doubt opinions vary.

Technology. Why can't we vote on-line? We already do so many things on the internet that depend on establishing our identity, such as banking or completing tax returns. Why can't we add voting? I've no idea if this would improve the turnout or not, but surely it couldn't hurt?

Whatever the reason, however pointless it may seem, I would argue that the opportunity to vote is both a right and a social responsibility and irrespective of political persuasion would urge everybody to have their say in who governs our country. Even if they do vote for the Monster Raving Loony Party!

Written by Mike Gamble: Director JEM Retail Consultants