Mary Portas and the Marketing Mix

Channel Four has recently begun a new series of Mary Portas Secret Shopper.  The idea of the programme is that Mary Portas, the former Harvey Nichol’s executive visits small independent retailers that are struggling.  Ms Portas then applies her knowledge and experience to alter the business in an attempt to improve its fortunes.  Both the BBC and Channel Five also run similar trouble-shooting programmes as prime time entertainment.

Theory is never mentioned in Secret Shopper but it is crystal clear that Ms Portas is applying a structured marketing planning approach to the business which, until her visit, was often lacking.

Take last night’s programme as an example.  The business in trouble was a small independent retailer of men’s clothing.  It was a family run business employing a husband and wife team and their two teenage children.  The business was located well away from other fashion retailers in the city of Portsmouth.

The first thing that drew Mary’s attention was the shop’s display window which seemed to offer a wide range of clothing styles.  Things got worse inside where the shop was filled to the rafters with a mass of clothing for different ages and different styles.  The proprietor described his stock as “a bit of mod, a bit of vintage sport, something for dads and the ‘chav’ area.

The first thing Mary Portas addressed was the issue of market segmentation and defining the store’s target audiences.  She was not impressed by the small shops attempt to copy a department store and tried to explain to the proprietor that he would be better placed by picking one or two target segments rather than trying to keep the whole populace happy. She was also not impressed that the shop’s toilet doubled as a changing room.

The majority of the programme was then focused on altering the trader’s marketing mix so that it fitted modern buying practices.  She did this by addressing each of the seven P’s of the extended marketing mix in turn:

  • Product – The shop had a vast range of clothing styles and was massively overstocked for the available sales area.  The front of the shop was filled with low value clothing whilst designer brands such as Henri LLoyd and Fred Perry were crammed into a small area at the back.  The shop looked like a storage warehouse rather than a fashion destination.  It was clear that shoppers would think the store as a discount outlet rather than somewhere where well known brands were for sale.  The programmes advice, display far less stock and give more room to display well designed cheaper clothing and the designer labels.  Make the shop somewhere where customers will want to spend time and which shows off the clothing to its best advantage.  The clothing ranges should focus on one or two distinct style sectors.  As many of the shop regulars were fans of the retro mod look of the 1960’s this should form the primary brand experience.  No more trying to keep everyone happy.
  • Place – The shop was located down a side street in the town centre and well away from the main shopping mall, where the majority of fashion retailers were located.  Like many such city centre streets, it was the home to charity and pound shops.  Not somewhere young fashionistas were likely to ‘hang out’.  The shop therefore had to become a distinct destination its core customer would travel to in order to buy particular types of clothing.  In particular it needed a modern and distinctive display window which would stand out from the other stores around it.
  • Price – The store should make the most of two pricing ranges, the high priced designer labels it already stocked and well designed cheaper clothing which fitted with the chosen target segments.  Mary Portas wanted to change the shop name to Mr Moore, the name of the proprietor, and the pricing strategy was ‘Moore’ or less.
  • Promotion – The primary methods of promoting the store were to be word of mouth amongst target audience groups and the shop’s website.  The website was an important tool in attracting various mod and scooter clubs to the store.  It was critical as a means of developing the shop as a distinct destination. As the shop’s proprietor was internet-phobic, it was suggested that the two teenage sons be responsible for the development and maintenance of the site.  Something with which their age group have a natural understanding.
  • People – Mary Portas found the atmosphere in the shop was very macho and male.  As a senior executive at a major clothing retailer, she knew all too well that middle-aged men, most of whom were married, rarely bought clothes without the input of their partners.  As this was the majority of the target audience, the shop had to become a place where women and minority groups would be comfortable.  This meant the changing room toilet had to go!
  • Process – Again, the macho atmosphere had to be toned down.  Like most of the shop premises in the series, the proprietor was reminded that he was in a service industry. For example, you shouldn’t describe one of your target segments as “Chavs”.
  • Physical Evidence – Instead of prices being displayed on clothing tabs, clear rail end pricing was displayed.  This was particularly important for the cheaper, non-designer clothing, as it highlighted that good design could be obtained at a price that was widely affordable.  The shop front was modernised, a staple in these programmes, and new clothing displays installed.  The changing room toilet was removed and the changing room stopped being used as a storage area.

This shop was no different to many independent retailers who are struggling to cope with the increase of internet shopping and the decline of the high street.  It reminded me of the latest issue of the Federation of Small Businesses magazine which focused on branding.  A quote from the main article in the magazine, by the Chair of the Chartered Institute of Marketing stated, “most small businesses are natural marketers but they don’t do it scientifically”.   What Mary Portas does in her programme is apply marketing science to small businesses so that they develop a consistent and distinctive offer to their target customers.  For small businesses, those two factors are key, Consistency of Message and Distinctiveness.

Philmus Consulting can help your business to develop a consistent and distinctive market position through the application of scientific marketing models.