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Stuart O'Brien


Poundland places 99p Stores into administration

Poundland has placed 99p Stores into administration, only two years after the company bought its rival for an estimated £55 million.

South African retailer Steinhoff, owner of the budget retail chain 99p Stores, has reportedly appointed AlixPartners to administrate the business, closing 60 stores across the UK with immediate effect.

“This appointment comes in support of Poundland Group Limited’s strategic decision to operate their entire retail estate under the Poundland fascia. No employees are affected by this appointment,” said a spokesperson for AlixPartners.

Job losses are thought to have been kept to a minimum as staff are set to be transferred across to neighbouring Poundland stores.

The 252 99p Store shops were bought by Poundland in 2015, ahead of the eventual takeover of Steinhof, with a plan to rebrand all outlets. However, 60 stores remained separate and were considered unprofitable by Poundland, reasoning that they were too close to existing stores.

In an interview with Retail Week, a spokesperson for the company said: “It’s no secret that the previous management of Poundland had difficulties digesting its 99p Stores acquisition.

“However, we’ve largely completed the store closure programme that addressed the remaining overlaps from that 99p acquisition.”

Poundland’s accounts for the year to March 27 2016 show pre-tax profits fell 19 per cent to £35 million, with profits falling at pre-existing Poundland stores and the rebranded 99p Stores branches incurring a pre-tax loss.

In July 2016 Steinhof announced that it had agreed a £450 million deal to take full control of Poundland, its first successful bid to take full control of a European company after failing to acquire Argos owner Home Retail Group and French retailer Darty.


Sports Direct workers still waiting for back pay

A large number of Sports Direct employees are still waiting for back pay as part compensation into being paid under the minimum wage.

MP’s were told by the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) select committee that Transline, one of the employment agencies at the heart of a Guardian investigation last year looking at staff from the retailer being paid less than the minimum wage, had refused to pay back any monies owed.

In August last year Transline agreed to paying back workers at a cost of up to £1 million, with some workers owed over £1,000 in back pay. The payments were to be backdated to May 2012.

However, unions expressed concerns at the time that Transline would renege on the deal before it took over contracts from a rival agency, Blue Arrow, in 2014.

Addressing the BEIS, Steve Turner, assistant general secretary of the Unite union, told MPs that Transline had refused to pay the back payment for the non payment of national minimum wage for the period of employment that employees had before Transline took over the contract, refusing to honour the transfer of undertakings regulations (known as Tupe) as a result.

“This is a huge issue,” commented Turner. “This is hundreds and hundreds of pounds for thousands of workers, where Best Connection, the other agency, has honoured the agreement and paid in full. Sports Direct has paid in full. But one agency, Transline, has decided it’s not going to do that.”

A spokesperson for Transline responded “All back payments have been made to Transline employees over the period in question (2014-2016). For those employees that worked for Blue Arrow and then transferred to Transline, we have been working with HM Revenue & Customs and are awaiting their guidance on how Tupe applies to the period that those employees worked for Blue Arrow. We will act according to their feedback as soon as this is received.”

Blue Arrow has yet to provide a comment.

In a letter to the BEIS committee last September, Transline said that it had undertaken a full review to make sure its “operations are fully compliant.”


Key Finance funds £1.5m LED lighting project for national retail chain

Key Finance has financed the £2.5 million resupply and installation of energy efficient LED lighting for SPAR stores.

Uniquely, the financing includes both the hard and soft costs associated with the project, which started in late-2016 and encompasses select SPAR retail outlets, warehouses and offices nationwide.

The latest phase includes the £170,000 supply and installation of LED lighting in cash & carry outlets.

Energy management is a major issue for retail in 2017 and one that comes with significant cost implications as businesses look to keep up with the latest technology and regulations.

As such – and following the success of its latest project – Key Finance is offering funding for energy efficient LED lighting installation to the wider retail community with immediate effect.

It’s Project-Based Lending (PBL) tool means Key Finance can provide complete funding for core and associated project costs at hugely competitive rates.

This is because PBL eschews the traditional restrictions of asset-based lending – instead recognising a client’s ability to pay, not the value of its assets and equipment.

Key Finance has been providing leasing services to the High Street retail ecosystem for 25 years, working closely with sole traders, leading multi-national chains, franchises, franchisees and distributors.

“Retailers are facing numerous challenges in today’s current climate, but the roll-out of our PBL tool means that their ability to fund expansions and improvements should not be one of them,” said Key Finance managing director Henry Mounsey. “Our long experience with some of the biggest names on the UK High Street ensures that we have an unrivalled understanding of the sector. We know that reinvesting in stock or new products and services can bring about a 10 per cent return on investment for retailers. Our lending options allow them to do just that – whilst we fund their expansions and refurbishments.”

eTailing Summit Networking

The eTailing Summit – One day, five reasons to attend

The eTailing Summit returns for 2017 on July 11th at the London Hilton Canary Wharf – and will once again give eCommerce and digital professionals the opportunity to meet with the product and service suppliers who will help shape their strategies for the future.

In one day, at one venue, you can meet with leading suppliers, based on your own business requirements and budget.

This event is free for you to attend and could be the best day you spend out of the office this year.

Included in your free VIP package are:-

  • A personalised itinerary of one-to-one meetings with the suppliers of your choice
  • An opening and closing seminar, led by industry thought-leaders
  • Complimentary meals and refreshments throughout the day
  • Unrivalled networking with your industry peers
  • No time wasted

To find out more about the eTailing Summit and to secure your VIP place, contact Katie Bullot on 01992 374049 or email

Or, to find out how you can attend the eTailing Summit as a trusted supplier, contact Craig Ross on 01992 666726 or email

Letter Writing

Letter writing – Time to reignite a lost art?

With some 41 States in the US saying that cursive writing need no longer be taught in schools, is this the death knell of a method of communication that has changed the world? Write a letter to someone today, says Forum Events Director Paul Rowney…

Imagine what history would be like if the likes of Churchill, Roosevelt, Hemingway, Orwell… had not written letters to their friends, relatives and work colleagues? Not only would we know a lot less about many major historical events, but we would also know precious little about these famous personalities, their characters, their feelings, the way they thought that them such political, literary or philosophical powerhouses.

But who writes letters nowadays? Not many people it seems. According to an item in the Huffington Post from 2011, “Last year the typical home received a personal letter about every seven weeks, according to the annual survey done by the post office. As recently as 1987 it was once every two weeks.”

So when did you last write a letter? As in putting Pen to Paper, not an email or an update on Facebook, but a personal one to one correspondence that went in the mail?

Here’s why you should consider resurrecting what could soon be a lost art.

First, because you are writing specifically to one person, you can say more intimate, relevant and interesting things, solely for the benefit of the recipient. It makes you feel good, and them feel special.

Second, because it takes time and thought to write a letter, those two things are what makes them so unique. You have taken some time out of you ‘busy schedule’ to do something for someone else’s pleasure. That time has been spent putting ideas, thoughts, feelings on paper in a structured, considered way. Not a bad self-discipline and one immediately recognised by the reader.

Third, it’s not cheap, the paper, envelopes (your time), postage, all costs. But then anything worth doing well normally involves some extra time and money. It’s an investment in your relationship with the recipient that will repay itself in many ways.

Fourth, people keep letters, they represent reminders of you, and the ones you receive keep your senders’ memories, and personality as a permanent reminder and record for you and posterity.

Fifth, they show you care and that you’re thinking of them and sharing with them your (at times) innermost thoughts, concerns, problems and happiness. It’s the next best thing to being with them. And because they are tangible the effect is long term and irreplaceable.

Sixth, when you do write, use a pen, not a computer. It’s more work but it sparks the creativity in you-and makes sure your handwriting skills are kept up to standard. With many schools now no longer teaching ‘cursive writing’, we may be the last generation that knows how to write and read handwriting, so keep this skill alive.

Seventh, start today and be astounded at the response from your recipient when they receive your unexpected letter. Especially if they are of the ‘older’ generation. They will be thrilled. Equally you’ll be delighted when amongst all the junk mail and bills you see an envelope with writing on it from them! When was the last time you saw that?

Then for all the above reasons, you’ll sit down and relish not just the contents of the letter, but the fact someone has taken the time, effort and thought to craft a communication solely for your benefit and enjoyment.

Just like everyone appreciates a birthday present that the giver has clearly gone to much trouble to personalise and buy because they know ‘it’s just right for you’. So receiving a handwritten letter conveys that same sense of individual concern and personal concern we all want, but seldom get.

Travis Perkins

GUEST BLOG: The secret to 10 years of colleague engagement in retail

By Simon Naylor, Head of Group Benefits, Strategic Reward at Travis Perkins plc

Travis Perkins is the UK’s leading supplier of building materials through its merchant and retail businesses.

Keeping our colleagues engaged in the retail sector is no mean feat but it is absolutely vital – by keeping our staff happy, we are keeping our customers happy.

In our business, our broad demographic mix and rapid growth across multiple sites and locations, mean we require solutions that recognise and reward colleagues, while being tangibly beneficial to them and cost effective to the company.

At Travis Perkins, we have 20+ different businesses and a total of 28,000 colleagues; a massive 18,500 of our colleagues actively engage with MyPerks Plus, the benefits programme we offer.

However, in a business like ours, an engagement platform can’t be a one-size-fits all approach. These 18,500 colleagues have spent £28.1m using the colleague discounts available on the platform over the last decade, saving them over £1.9m.

We use Reward Gateway’s employee engagement platform, SmartHub®, to offer our colleagues a choice of favoured high street retailers and supermarkets.

This means that colleagues have a choice on how to save money by using their discounts to spend on what’s important to them, at their preferred shopping locations. It also meets a range of incomes for our colleagues, something that is available to everyone, even those with lower disposable income.

They also have a choice on what and when they can access their discounts and what device they want to use to do so which is important as the majority of our colleagues work a range of hours and aren’t desk bound.

Since working with Reward Gateway, we’ve improved recognition for our long serving colleagues and we are unique in retail as many of those people have been with us for between thirty and fifty years.

It’s not unusual for us, as a business, to celebrate colleagues who have been with us for over 10 years too. Our Long Service Awards are joined up with MyPerks Plus and now include a personalised gift, a message from our CEO and money for colleagues to spend on the Reward Gateway discounted products.

Feedback shows colleagues feel more special and celebrated with personal, meaningful recognition. We have a strong community of colleagues who post on our online forums about the offers they find on the site, championing the programmes like SmartHub organically.

It’s worked brilliantly for our business because our on-the-ground colleagues are our best voice to share benefits that they love. The engagement is high because the benefits are material and real to their life outside of work. We’re proud of how far we’ve come over the last ten years with Reward Gateway at our side and we’re always looking for innovative ways to make Travis Perkins a better place to work, from the Long Service Awards, to peer to peer communications, to our ‘Getting it Right’ awards which enable managers to reward good behavior when they see it.

There’s more to do however and we want 2017 to be a year where we evolve Reward Gateway’s tool to a full engagement service that encompasses communications, benefits, reward and recognition.

Mike Coupe Sainsbury's

Sainsbury’s core business down, but overall sales up

Sainsbury’s has reported a 0.5 per cent downturn in business in like-for like sales, excluding fuel, in the nine week period to March 11th.

However, the company’s overall sales growth was propped up by a 4.3 per cent increase in like-for-like sales at Argos alone, with a slight acceleration from growth of 4.0 per cent in the previous quarter.

This is good news for Sainsbury’s, which acquired the Home Retail Group, owners of both Argos and Habitat, last September for an estimated £1.4bn.

The company now has over 2,000 stores, which include 601 supermarkets, 773 convenience stores, 739 Argos stores (including concessions) along with three Habitat stores. Sainsbury’s also benefits from online retail of food, clothing, financial services and general merchandise, with the online grocery business reporting a seven per cent growth, with orders up eight per cent.

The Tu clothing brand from Sainsbury’s also faired well, with sales up 5 per cent. The supermarket has registered strong growth in clothing sales over the past three years as sales increased by 8.5 per cent in 2015/16 after hitting a high of 11.9 per cent in the previous year.

According to data from consumer knowledge and data analysis’s, Kantar Wordpanel, supermarkets now account for £1 of every £10 spent on clothing and 23 per cent of items bought.

Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Morrisons and Asda continue to be involved in a bitter price war as budget supermarkets Aldi and Lidl continue to take market share from the Big 4.


Maisie Jane

Industry Spotlight: Necklace Lanyards from Maisie Jane is changing the way women accessorise for business by introducing Necklace Lanyards for Ladies.

Replace standard lanyard cord with a beautiful necklace in a variety of styles. Use it for work passes or even conference name badge, adding style to any outfit.

Key features include:

· Removable clasp to leave a standalone necklace, perfect for post-work drinks;
· Quick release fastening, secured by magnets, making it compliant with most HSE guidelines;
· Zip-assist, use the clasp to help you zip into and out of that tricky dress

Say goodbye to garish lanyard cords and hello to beautiful Necklace Lanyards.

House of Fraser

House Of Fraser reveals 5-year vision, encompassing brands, stores and digital

House Of Fraser executives have revealed their five-year vision for the company, including plans to drop up to 40 fashion brands and relaunch its website as part of a strategic campaign aimed at putting the businesses at the forefront of a changing retail environment.

Executives from the company admitted that a lack of investment over the past two decades had left the retailer “on life support”, but insisted the plans would realign it with its core customers and repair its brand portfolio.

Executive chairman Frank Slevin said the department store chain was in the middle of a “transformational period” and the overhaul would help boost sales and allow House of Fraser to stay ahead of the changes the retail industry as a whole is facing.

According to The Times [Paywall], the retailer will axe up to 40 of the 677 third-party brands it sells and boost labels such as Barbour, North Face and All Saints, along with house labels Linea, Biba and Label Lab.

There will also be a renewed focus on womenswear and homeware, redefining the company as a premium department store, with a new core customer called “Jo”, defined as a mother of two, who prioritises family, community and work, earning two to three times the national average.

“She is a modern woman, who is getting back me-time, and is looking for inspiration,” said David Walmsley, chief customer officer.

There will also be a push to wean shoppers off discounts by holding less promotions to reduce stock levels and avoid price hikes to cope with the continuing rise in costs due to a post Brexit devalued sterling.

Following successful trials in Australia, a new mobile-friendly website will also be launched for use on mobiles and tablets, allowing customers to shop online for home deliveries or click-and-collect.

The five-year plan also includes the launch of restaurants, champagne bars and yoga studios to encourage its core audience “Jo” to spend more time in stores.

There will also be the introduction of year-round gift departments in 20 stores, along with the launch of athleisure in 40 stores.

Chief financial officer Colin Elliot said Sanpower, the Chinese company that owns House of Fraser, had invested £90 million into the business since its acquisition in 2014 and plans to invest a further £45 million this year, with the cash injection already helping 12 stores with renovations and upgrades to the IT systems.


FORUM INSIGHT: Where have good business manners gone?

“Manners maketh man.” William of Wykeham, pictured, (1324 – 1404), Motto of Winchester College and New College, Oxford

Maybe it’s my age (61), or my upbringing (middle class Brit), but am I the only one to notice the abyss into which the use of good manners has plummeted in recent years? Nowadays it seems acceptable to:

– Transact entire business deals without speaking to anyone-just use email.

– Not answer your phone, not reply to messages.

– Not turn up to meetings, or arrive late.

– Conduct a conversation with two people at the same time-when one is on the phone.

– Use poor spelling and grammar.

– Dress without any consideration for the occasion, or with respect to others.

This (very) short list is indicative of a much wider malaise that increasingly illustrates that people don’t care how their ill mannered and boorish behaviour affects others. Of course, technology has helped tremendously in allowing this rude and thoughtless behaviour to proliferate: The telephone, once a godsend that allowed people to communicate quickly and personally has now become almost defunct in business (and the most antisocial of instruments in our personal lives).

When I was first in business the telephone was an effective means of communication. So much more could be achieved when talking rather than writing. It was efficient, personal and productive. But that has now changed courtesy of the invention of the loathsome Voicemail.

It has bred a generation of people who hide behind a technology that allows them to avoid any personal contact. I refused to allow a Voicemail system in our office as it is a barrier between ourselves and our customers, who deserve better than to be met with a disembodied recording when they have taken the time and trouble to call us.

If Voicemail has made it easy to ignore any form of live interaction with people, Email has allowed it to become endemic and embedded in our business activities. Here is the ultimate tool designed to allow you to conduct business devoid of any live communication or conversation.

Add to this toxic mixture of rudeness, the rise of the call centre, and you now have the ultimate weapon of mass discourtesy. No longer will anyone running a company have to talk to their customers. As a final snub, ensure no individual’s contact details appear on your website, and you are cocooned against any contact with the outside world.

What a way to do business, what a way to treat your customers, what an attitude of ignorance and arrogance.

We have more ways than ever to communicate-unfortunately all of them increasingly impersonal and lacking the means to create any proper business relationship. So why do you need to care about what people think of you?

“Politeness and consideration for others is like investing pennies and getting dollars back.” Thomas Sowell (1930 -)

But it gets worse. The days when a ‘man’s word was his bond’ is a thing of the past (unless you’re Marcus Lemonis from the TV series ‘The Profit’, where deals still seem to be done on the basis of one’s word and a handshake).

I speak from experience here. I used to run events for senior executives. Without exception some always failed to turn up, failed to tell us they won’t be attending. It seemed an alien concept to them that they have broken their word, been discourteous to us and the people they were due to meet. But hey, what’s it matter, why should they care, it suited them to change their plans and to hell if their thoughtless behaviour inconvenienced others.

From the top to the bottom it’s the same. It was a standing joke in our office (in the US) that if we had 10 candidates coming for interviews, probably only three would turn up. Then dressed so informally it looked as though they had just come from the beach. Haven’t they heard the expression ‘you only have one chance to make a good impression?’

The failing of modern day bad manners reaches its nadir on the subject of poor spelling and grammar. SMS has singlehandedly raised a generation of people who can conduct complete conversations without the use of a vowel. And despite the wonderful invention of Spellchecker, barely a day goes by where I don’t see letters and promotional material littered with spelling and grammatical howlers.

The detritus of a lazy mind and careless attitude. Even technology cannot help these people it seems. Why is this bad manners? Because it shows you just don’t care, that you can’t be bothered to make an effort when communicating with someone. It also displays your ignorance. Where has all this lack of courtesy come from? Aside from technology, another major cause is the sheer number of customers huge corporations now have. This makes it not only impossible, but unnecessary, to care how they are treated. How can AT&T with 121 million customers possibly hope to treat each one with any courtesy beyond the bland scripted comments from their call centre operatives? Indeed why should they care?

There’s another 100 million prospects out there being treated equally badly by their competitors. So every day thousands will be swapping from one crass corporate entity to another in the hope they’ll be better treated. They won’t.

“Rudeness is the weak man’s imitation of strength.” Eric Hoffer (1902 – 1983)

Television doesn’t help either. Unfortunately Kevin O’Leary on TV’s Shark Tank has become the latest TV star to display a boorish disregard for good manners. While at times his comments on the wannabe entrepreneurs’ business plans can be amusing, all too often it quickly plummets into a nasty and casual disregard for their feelings. It may make good television but it’s certainly not good manners.

If the likes of O’Leary (let alone ‘The Donald’, Simon Cowell, etc) can make discourtesy acceptable behaviour, what hope is there for the rest of us? What example is it setting to the millions watching their mindless, thoughtless comments?
Why has the World turned its back on good manners, courteous behaviour and politeness? Is it just too much effort?

Good Manners cost nothing but can achieve so much, or as Clarence Thomas said: “Good manners will open doors that the best education cannot”.

And with the lack of education out there, many people need all the help they can get. Good manners may not be the sole reason you advance in life, but bad manners will ensure you will rarely reach your potential.