Posts Tagged ‘Misfit’

Is Mary Portas bottom line in the red?

unionjackpantsimages 150x150 Is Mary Portas bottom line in the red?

Will Kinky Knickers become a viable business?

I had intended to write about each of the three episodes of Mary’s Bottom Line, the TV programme funded by Channel 4 about retail guru Mary Portas and her attempt to revive British garment manufacturing by producing a range of British made knickers.

I found myself so underwhelmed by the programmes that are lacking anything even vaguely resembling a real business that I was overcome by ennui – hence the delay and only two posts.

With space for reflection and a look at the wider picture there are lessons for us ordinary business mortals in the swamp of emotional super hype that brings in TV ratings.

Let people do the job you hire them for.

As predicted in the first episode, the unfortunate misfit apprentice was sacked. The young woman’s behaviour apparently “put the whole enterprise at risk” but it was actually Mary’s insistence that she was hired, against all the advice of her staff, that posed the real risk.
The lesson all business owners can learn from this is if you hire people to do a job they need to be allowed to do it, even if this means making mistakes. Our job is to help them learn from mistakes, not prevent them from happening. A business owner who swoops in and overrules decisions will never grow a competent and committed team. When the boss’s decision turns out to be a big mistake it doesn’t do a lot for credibility or morale.

Communicate, delegate and check

After interfering in a delegated task, Mary then went to the other extreme and abdicated responsibility. While she swanned around getting orders and hugs from high profile bosses of retail chains (can you imagine the publicity if they’d said *no*?) and rocked up at No 10 to get a personal assurance from the PM that he would “do everything in his power” to make sure the ‘Made in Britain’ status was granted, her workers were languishing without essential supplies.
They were waiting for her decisions. She assumed they were getting on with it.
Delegation is an art and requires clear communication and checks.

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket

Also flagged up in the first episode was that the only remaining manufacturer of stretch lace in the UK would manage to muck up the order and, yes, you’ve guessed it “put the whole enterprise at risk”. The lesson from this is to plan for all eventualities.
Having one supplier of critical services or products is risky. Having one person in your business who is indispensible is risky. More than fire, flood, computer crashes or other risks, the risk of *one* is the greatest. Always try to have a back up.

Plan, plan and plan some more

Only after the staff had been hired, the patterns made, the lace ordered and the production started did the critical process of pricing and branding (apparently) take place.
There are business plans and business plans. The sort that is concocted with the aid of a crystal ball to get funding or investment at the start of a venture usually never sees the light of day after its purpose has been accomplished but that doesn’t mean that other plans, real, live, working plans aren’t needed and used on a daily basis to keep the enterprise on track.

Business is about making the numbers work

Its easy to get caught up in the emotional roller coaster, the urge to do good, to make a difference and power an idea through with sheer chutzpah and force of personality. True entrepreneurs are ace at this. People respond to emotions: they’ll follow you, throw their commitment in to your idea and buy into your passion but if the numbers don’t stack up, the business will fail, no matter how many people are passionate about it.
Profit is the only measure of a successful business.
Mary has a business partner who does the behind the scenes planning an managing. The factory she is using has a managing director and a team of number crunchers. Being a figurehead is great, being an entrepreneur or a visionary is great but most of the success of a business comes from the very unglamorous careful planning and managing of resources.

It remains to be seen if the knicker factory can make a profit under its own steam when the Chanel 4 funding and TV publicity runs out.

The initial stocks have sold out, there are no Kinky knickers (the brand name) in stores at the moment so the huge push to get it going could be wasted or could just be waiting for the steady flow of stock to re-commence.

Spot trends

One of the really positive lessons to come out of this programme is the importance of spotting trends and jumping on bandwagons. We too often use historical evidence to plan our business tactics. We look at past trends, what sold, what worked and try to replicate it but the stroke of genius comes when we can spot a future trend and exploit it as it unfolds.
It seems that there is a real resurgence of manufacturing in the UK as materials, labour and transport costs make manufacturing abroad less cost effective.
It may be that there really will be a revival – a trend that started before this show was made, but guess who will get the kudos? Maybe the final lesson is:

Be an opportunist

What are your views – leave me a comment below!

Related post:  The holes in Mary Portas’ knickers 



The holes in Mary Portas’ knickers

unionjackpantsimages 150x150 The holes in Mary Portas knickers

“Let’s revive British manufacturing”

So shouts Mary Portas, striking a pose for the cameras in her new TV show Mary’s Bottom Line (read all about it here

Mary is passionate and persuasive and appeals to every emotion any decent human being can relate to as she strides through a deprived area of Manchester rescuing unemployed people and an unloved factory by manufacturing “Made in Britain” knickers.

The programme is the usual mix of ‘business lessons’ and entertainment that we’ve come to expect from this type of show but what can ordinary (i.e. not celebrity) business folk learn from Mary’s latest exploits?

Market research

Mary does her market research by agreeing with a high end French lingerie manufacturer that “people these days buy less but pay more for quality” and by guilt tripping shoppers in the high street into admitting they would pay more for British made knickers. Really? Most of them had no idea where the knickers they were wearing came from so maybe when the cameras aren’t running it’s not such an issue for them.

Hiring the right staff

A snaking line of 400 applicants is reduced to eight apprentices but not before covering the usual sob-stories that seem to be compulsory on all reality TV shows. 

Despite the huge number of people to choose from, Mary insists on taking on one girl who has neither the right attitude not the skills to do the job.

Now, conflict makes for good TV but it doesn’t make for good business and I suspect in following shows there will be showdowns and shouting with echoes of other shows where a misfit is made a scapegoat for the sake of TV drama with nor thought for their subsequent welfare.

For me, employing people should be about doing what’s right for both the business and the employee and not about exploitation, whether it’s for profit or TV ratings.


The supply chain

Having got her workforce set up Mary then apparently realises that she doesn’t have the British made lace she needs to produce the knickers. The TV audience is treated to a dash around Nottingham as Mary hunts down the only manufacturer of stretch lace left in Britain and gets him to agree to supply her enterprise. 

A preview of next week’s show hints that this arrangement is doomed. Maybe in the real world the supply chain would take a higher priority ….


Leaving aside the manipulation that is necessary to make a good TV show, is this idea cynically exploiting a deep seated desire to revive British manufacturing? Is Mary paving a road for those less famous to follow? If her knickers didn’t have this huge TV exposure that no normal manufacturer could afford, would they ever get to market?  What do you think?

More next week as Mary settles on a name for her knickers, sorts out the branding and chooses a model bum to show them off.

Related post: Will Kinky Knickers become a viable business? 

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