Mary Portas: Why retail constructs are a thing of the past

Mary Portas on Retail

Mary Portas has become known for her unique approach to building successful teams within the world of retail.

Explaining the reasoning behind her views on flexible working, Mary said: “I completely created a whole new value system on how you make people feel safe and give them freedom. We make sure our business is as profitable as possible and works so we all have jobs, but I believe every person should be free to do it their way.”

Portas spoke exclusively at Autumn Fair, recommending the following ways for retailers to create positive working environments which encourage staff to thrive and take pride in their job.

Here’s what she had to say:

Let go of unnecessary constructs

“The number one illness in this country is depression and 80% of people say it’s because they are not happy in the workplace. Businesses make constructs because they are afraid, but we are seeing an increasing number let people work however they work best. As an example, we let people work from home but people choose to work from our agency because of the atmosphere, and when they choose to work from home, they get as much done as they can because they enjoy it. It’s all about fitting into their way of life. If you force constructs, you fall back into structured, rigorous, soulless business where everyone looks and dresses the same.”

Include staff in business-changing decisions

“Everybody has a voice,” says Portas. “We speak to everybody in the business, no matter what level or how long they’ve been there. We ask what they’d do if they were MD for the day and use this for ideas we can implement.”

Trust your employees

“We’re in business together and I know my team come to me when they need me, but I trust them to make decisions on their own. Many retail businesses don’t do this because of fear.”

Avoid temptation to take over

“Sometimes there are times when you want to change something or you don’t agree with someone’s decision, but there are ways to voice this and it’s important to do this in a different way, rather than overriding.”

Invest time 

“There will always be times it is difficult to keep the culture alive and make sure you’re bringing everybody with you. You’ve got to put the work in and take the time for the process to work, getting rid of teething problems. Once it’s in place, it works, even if it does take time.”

Trust your instincts

“Doing things instinctively works fantastically and it’s the most important thing. The biggest mistakes in my business life have been when I’ve gone against something in my head telling me that something doesn’t seem right.”

Embrace learning curves

“Understanding humans is by far the most important thing in retail. I once presumed that everyone knew who Karl Lagerfeld was and expected hundreds of people to turn up to a launch I organised, but only about 7 people turned up. You fall and you think… What did I learn? Human behaviour is mad and you have to accept that sometimes it won’t work, but you learn and move on. If you have fear and don’t let people learn, that’s when you really have a problem.”

For more ways to successfully train retail staff, click here.