David Parkin on how to win friends and influence people and the details of a retailer

David Parkin on how to win friends and influence people and the details of a retailer

HOW to make friends and influence people?

Have you ever wondered how you do that?

Well don’t do what I do, for a start.

This time last year I attended the CBI Yorkshire and Humber annual dinner in the refectory of the University of Leeds.

I must have found it pretty uninspiring as I described it as “drier than an ageing Ryvita”.

Which prompted Beckie Hart, the regional director of the CBI in Yorkshire, to march over to me at a parliamentary reception in the Churchill Room of the House of Commons a few weeks later to present me with a packet of Ryvita.

Fair play to her.

Rather than simmering in silence she confronted me and did it with a sense of humour.

When I bumped into Beckie at the Proms on the Pitch event at Headingley Stadium last month she introduced me to her husband.

“Are you the Ryvita man?” he asked.

It was back to the University of Leeds refectory for this year’s CBI annual dinner last night and I was hoping it wouldn’t be deja vu (forgive the lack of accents on the e and the a, I can’t find how to do it on my keyboard) all over again.

Fortunately it wasn’t a bad do, perhaps helped by me being on the lively Barclays table hosted by Caroline Pullich, Lee Collinson and Karen Swainston in a rather fetching pair of zebra print heels (Karen, not Lee).

The compere of the evening was the chairman of the CBI in Yorkshire and the Humber Richard Flint.

He made his name building up SkyBet into a major force with 1,500 staff in Leeds.

He oversaw its sale to Canadian group Stars last year and has recently returned as a non-executive director following the takeover of Stars by Flutter Entertainment, the owner of Paddy Power and Betfair.

Richard said that a lot of people had thought he might have retired after leaving SkyBet – or taken up cycling or golf.

“One person even said to me: ‘Now you can emancipate yourself from the shackles of capitalism’!” he told the audience.

During his time leading the CBI in the region Richard has focused on some key areas including aiming to improve young people’s employment prospects.

“Four interactions with an employer during their education makes a young person five times more employable,” he told the audience.

A fellow guest on our table, Rodney Dalton of law firm Lupton Fawcett, leaned over to me while Richard Flint was speaking.

“What’s the difference between you and him as a compere?” he asked.

“About £20m,” I replied.

The guest speakers were Dame Carolyn Fairbairn, director general of the CBI and Ayesha Hazarika MBE, who couldn’t decide whether she was a comedian or a political lecturer.

She used to work for Ed Miliband so I can see where the comedy comes from.

So it was a decent night and not, on this occasion, as dry as an ageing Ryvita.

But possibly a bit dry.

Just in case I bump into Beckie in the near future I’d say it was as dry as a Pol Roger Cuvee Sir Winston Churchill vintage champagne (200 quid from Laithwaites wine merchants.

:::

THE torrid times endured by UK high street retailers have not abated.

The latest casualty is Bonmarche (where’s that bleeding accent key?) which appointed administrators, putting the future of the womenswear chain with 318 stores into grave doubt.

There is no question that UK high street shops are facing unique challenges, as the way people shop changes.

But I wonder whether some of their issues have been self-inflicted?

It is rare today to find a retail business run by a retailer.

I know you might say that anyone running a retail chain is a retailer but are they a true retailer – not an accountant or a marketeer?

I recall a day I spent with Steve Bullas the then chief executive of Bonmarche in the early 2000s.

After interviewing him at the company’s headquarters near Huddersfield he insisted on taking me to one of its stores.

We drove into nearby Wakefield, walked across the precinct to Bonmarche which was bustling with ladies of a certain age carrying shopping baskets and moving with purpose and grace through the store like a herd of migrating wildebeest.

Bullas took me over to some of the clothing displays, picking out brightly coloured cotton and acrylic jumpers and dresses and pointing out their low prices.

We then left the shop to drive over to the Three Acres restaurant near Huddersfield for lunch with his finance director and marketing director.

But as we drove out of Wakefield, Bullas pressed down hard on the brake of his large BMW.

I thought he had stopped to avoid hitting a cat.

“There they are!” he exclaimed with excitement.

“My ladies!”

I looked to where he was pointing and saw three mature women in macs and headscarves standing at a bus stop.

They had those pull-along tartan shopping trolleys that used to be a la mode.

“They’re my ladies! They are going home on the bus now but they will have come into town, had a coffee at the Merrie England cafe and then gone to do their shopping at Bonmarche.”

Now that’s a retailer.

 :::

THERE was a full congregation at Wakefield Cathedral last Friday for a memorial service to celebrate the life of former Yorkshire Forward chairman Terry Hodgkinson.

Terry died suddenly early this year at the far too young age of 70.

As I wrote at the time, I met him in 2003 when he became the head of the then regional development agency.

He was a kind and generous man who did a great deal for both this region and many people, but expected nothing in return.

Leeds City County chief executive Tom Riordan was CEO at Yorkshire Forward during Terry’s tenure and he paid a fulsome tribute at the service.

“Terry was larger than life, literally and he made an impact on the built environment and the people of Yorkshire,” said Tom.

He remembered a speech that members of the team at Yorkshire Forward had helped craft for Terry to deliver to a business audience.

They had helpfully included a few instructions on where he should give particular emphasis to some of the lines.

“Give it some OOOMPH!” had been written alongside a line that needed to be particularly impactful.

“And we must give it zero, zero, zero miles per hour,” Terry declared to the audience – half of whom were scratching their heads and the other half were nodding sagely.

:::

WAKEFIELD Cathedral sits in the centre of the West Yorkshire city surrounded by pedestrianised shopping streets.

As I settled into my seat in the knave of this place of worship I could vaguely hear the noise of a bagpiping busker in the precinct outside.

I wondered whether his wailing dirge would disrupt the memorial service?

It reminded me of a Laurel and Hardy short film called Below Zero where the duo are busking in a bleak snow swept street.

A lady puts her head out of a window above them and asks them how much they make per street.

When they tell her she gives them twice as much and asks them to move on two streets.

The position of the cathedral between two shopping streets appears to have made it a shortcut for locals.

That can be the only explanation for a pair of scruffy blokes with Poundland shopping bags walking through the cathedral in the middle of Terry Hodgkinson’s memorial service.

Terry would have smiled at that.

:::

I WAS sorry not to manage to get to Countryside Live at the weekend.

The annual autumn showcase of countryside activities is a fun way to spend a weekend and always a good place to buy a few early Christmas gifts.

I was also keen to get an update from last year’s event at the Great Yorkshire Showground.

During a birds of prey display we were introduced to a sexually frustrated tawny owl called Colin.

Apparently he is prone to quite a lot of negativity which has prevented him finding his perfect partner.

I’ve been there Colin.

But a combination of factors prevented me getting to Harrogate for the Yorkshire Agricultural Society’s event.

Principal among them was a dachshund with a slipped disc and I was also carrying what might be called a ‘first world’ injury.

I slashed my finger whilst peeling some orange zest to add to a negroni.

Ouch.

Have a great weekend.

I will, I’ve just found the accent key on my laptop kéééééyboard.

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