Blog: RWC 2010 - the highlights

Simon Warburton | 3 March 2010

To London then on the rattler to attend Retail Week's annual beano for the great and good of the industry. And Sir Stuart Rose.

Twitterers, witterers and even some old-fashioned hacks with pens and notebooks packed the 200-strong gathering, which at times with its massed ranks of black suits resembled something akin to a Chinese plenary session.

First on parade was John Lewis boss Charlie Mayfield – the media man of the moment - and who appears to have a queue of politicians beating a path to his door with the John Lewis Partnership cooperative scheme that yielded a remarkable GBP120m in bonuses last year – not just to the top brass – but to every man jack. A few of the suits shifted a little uncomfortably at that presumption.

Charlie's mike packed up rather unfortunately around 30secs into his delivery and he carried on blissfully unaware while a technician fussed around his lapel. It allowed at least the genial host Declan Curry, to quip that any speakers not making an impression within 2min would be off, X-Factor-style.

After Mayfield's genial urbanity came a extraordinarily forensic analysis of the global economic meltdown from Aurora Fashions' non-exec president Stewart Binnie, who delivered a blizzard of statistics.

And Binnie managed to distill the whole mess into one telling and killer fact. Namely, that the UK managed to hose away in just two weeks of unparalleled charity to the banks, roughly the same amount yielded from 11 years of privatisation receipts under the Thatcher government. Yikes.

But then, waiting in the wings - and was that just a suspicion of tan in the winter gloom? - lurked George W Bush lookalike and Knight of the Realm, Stuart Rose. He went on the offensive immediately, having apparently made a tour of TV studios this week as his successor's apparent GBP15m remuneration package was dissected in minute detail.

No shrinking violet, Rose was the antithesis to Mayfield's calm, reeling off myriad amounts of detail with consummate ease and made a claim to save the planet as well, dismissing “flat-earthists” and politicians with equal disdain in his zeal for sustainability.

Having firmly defended his successor's reported salary, Rose also mused on his own future. “I've earned the right to a bit more fun,” he said, before launching a fresh attack (does the man ever relax?) on anti-capitalists. “Business has been partly demonised,” he thundered because of what has happened to the banks. “Creation of wealth is good.”

But as an antidote to all the polar bear saving and gloomy economic models, up bounced three girls who are London's entry in the Retail Futures Challenge.

And the students had come up with a cracker. Rightly identifying that just about every male on the planet has an inbuilt antipathy to darkening any shop door, the trio have come up with the 'Apples and Pears' clothes shop concept.

Based on cockney rhyming slang for 'stairs,' Apples and Pears is a retail outlet based on what the girls maintain is “men's perfect shopping experience” - the pub.

With pool tables, darts, non-stop sport on TV and even a tattoo parlour, the idea is for men - “roadsweeper to goalkeeper” to be able to shop in an environment in which they are highly trained.

It's a corker of an idea, although the nagging question of whether, er, beer, might actually be sold was left tantalisingly in the balance. Who knows what jeans and tattoos they might end up with?

By Simon Warburton.

Click here to read more of Simon Warburton's coverage of Retail Week Conference 2010.


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