Friday, 12 February 2010

Could Ethel Austin follow Woollies into retail oblivion?

Ethel Austin, for years a feature of most British high streets, has gone into administration for the second time in two years, all 276 stores are still trading but administrators MCR said that some may have to close. In an ironic sidebar to coverage of the announcement it was noted that Ethel Austin bought twelve sites that belonged to that other now vanished high street stalwart, Woolworths.

Geoff Bouchier of MCR told the BBC that the global economic crisis had hit retailers hard and that as a result many companies have ‘struggled to secure funds which has in turn impacted on their ability to generate sales revenue. The recent cold snap has also hit the retail sector hard with shoppers staying at home in front of the fire.

I’m not really the sort of customer that Ethel Austin ever considered part of its target market, I ‘m more ‘man at C&A, and that didn’t turn out too well did it? but I’d be sorry to see them go. If only because there are more than enough boarded up shops on the nation’s high streets as it is.

You don’t, I think, have to be a retail expert, what we used to call a shopkeeper before everyone who wanted us to think they were someone had to have a title, to see why Woolworths and now Ethel Austin have come a cropper. Put simply they were too cheap to cash in on the obsession with all things chic that has gripped the country for the past fifteen years and not cheap enough to compete with the rise and rise of the pound shops.

‘2010 will be tough,’ said Mark Hudson of Pricewaterhousecoopers, predicting that the performance of the retail sector would be ‘slow but steady until summer, then all bets are off until the first budget after the election.’

If you’re willing to ignore how little the willingness of a respected firm of accountants to abandon simple punctuation in favour of something their marketing people told them was ‘hip’ says about their capacity for common sense, and I am, then Mr Hudson might just have a point. Maybe what we need is a new government willing to tackle the deficit, or just the old government with a new mandate and someone a little calmer at the helm to restore a little confidence amongst Britain’s retailers. It would be a shame if by the time it does poor old Ethel Austin has lost her shirt and cheap hoop earrings on the economic roulette wheel.

Politicians: don’t call us and we won’t call you.

s they limber up for the coming general election the Labour Party has got itself into trouble over cold calling voters. The calls, which featured the voice of former Coronation Street star Liz Dawn, were made to 500,000 people without their consent and the party has been heavily criticised by the Information Commissioner.

The Tories and Liberal Democrats have also faced criticism for subjecting unsuspecting voters to what the Americans call ‘robocalls’ designed to drum up support ahead of an election.

At a time when they need to regain out trust after the expenses scandals of the past year the three main political parties seem to have shot themselves in both feet by resorting to the tactics used by dodgy double glazing firms in a vain attempt to ‘connect’ with the electorate. Even if they do use the voice of a much loved celebrity unsolicited phone calls are a nuisance most voters can well do without.

Death of a fashion maverick.

How sad to hear late yesterday of the death of fashion designer Alexander McQueen, about which some in the media have dropped dark hints concerning possible suicide.

His clothes were unwearable, let alone unaffordable for most mortals, but in their design they embodied a wilful eccentricity that was uniquely British.

Without doubt the fashion world and the London social scene will be a much less colourful place now that he has gone.

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