'House of Fraser lost its way when it sacked experienced staff who knew how to deal with customers'

By Grimsby Telegraph | Posted: 11 Jun 2018

As the dust settles from the shock announcement that House of Fraser is set to close its store in Grimsby, one ex staff member lifts the lid on when the problems began.

Martin Wakefield was previously a department manager for menswear, at the then known Binns, and House of Fraser in Victoria Street. And although he admitted he was sad to hear the news of the proposed closure of a store synonymous in Grimsby for around 50 years, it didn't come as a total surprise.

"I feel sorry for all those members of staff and their families at such a sad time," he said.

"Stores like House of Fraser were a part of our community and will certainly be missed. It’s a huge loss for the town not only for customers and staff, but actual money that will be lost to this area and spent in Meadowhall.

"Working in retail used to be a profession with highly trained well motivated staff and House of Fraser was a good example of this."

Former menswear department manager Martin Wakefield took redundancy

House Of Fraser says the proposals are central to the “significant restructuring of the business”, without which the retailer “does not have a viable future”.

Where did it go wrong?

Martin shares his thoughts about what he believes started the wobble on the wheels of this once popular high street business.

He said: "It was about 1992 when the Al-Fayed brothers took over House of Fraser and acquired Harrods and had no real interest in the rest of the company.

"This was followed by lack of investment and in turn head office being purged of 'old sweats' that had been paid well and knew the business and being replaced by new folks that did not know the business, who in many cases came straight from university.

"This was then followed by a purge of store managers that knew their stuff to be replaced by 'yes men' on smaller salaries.

"I was department manager for menswear at the time and had been there for about 12 years - it was then my time to go.

The House of Fraser store, in Victoria Street, Grimsby, one of a number shortlisted for closure, as the company makes cuts across the country

"We had a review of department heads and again all the 'old sweats' like myself were offered in my case an assistant floor manager or redundancy.

"I chose like many of friends and colleagues redundancy, and it's interesting to note, many of my friends who chose to stay on were made redundant later.

"You may say what did this do to the business? It gave it a death sentence and this is because the retail knowledge of the products that they were selling and the customer base was destroyed.

"This in turn left the company not knowing who their customers were and not being able to understand what their customers wanted.

"Although it is unfashionable to say, it's not all about online shopping and cost, people will pay to see, feel, touch and try on clothing and have someone who can give you some advice about your purchase; such as the John Lewis Partnership.

August 2007, the newly refurbished section in House of Fraser, Freshney Place, Grimsby

"I had been in retail for about 24 years and still feel today there is a need for shops and maybe smaller sized department stores; with a small dedicated staff force and back up online shopping.

“The old days with personal service of expert staff assisting you to make the right choice in your purchases have gone.

“Online shopping has hit the high street and taken the soul out of retailing and people are quite prepared to buy cheap online.

“If the powers that be are not careful, the town's shopping centre will continue to decline turn into another bomb site!”

Another ex member of staff who worked with Martin around the same time period also anonymously shared their thoughts on how things changed for the worse.

She said: "It was great in the early days but when they ousted the managers it was an awful atmosphere.

“Only pound signs, no friendliness anymore - one of the reasons I left.

“The early years was House of Fraser goods, to help the business they started to get more concessions to the point it took over and they got more expensive labels (for Grimsby) in.”

Changing times ahead



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Source article: http://www.grimsbytelegraph.co.uk/

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