“There are no hard times for good ideas” – Harry Gordon Selfridge
Selfridge was the quintessential entrepreneur ahead of his time while lessons in entrepreneurship were his forte.
The Founder of the world famous Selfridges store in London, he introduced many of the retail practices of department stores we now take for granted.
Harry Gordon Selfridge opened his store on Oxford Street in London in early 20th century when the concept of walking into a store and experiencing the merchandise, touching the fabrics and testing the perfumes, was unheard of, at least in London.
He had already acquired experience in running a big department store, Marshal Field, in Chicago, his home town.
Selfridge was an entrepreneur who taught the world many new and innovative ideas at the time – he was far ahead of the era he lived in. Some of his concepts would have worked just as well in modern times.
There are lessons we can learn from his legacy – plenty, actually.
As a man who single handedly conquered Oxford Street and turned it into Britain’s fashion mile, Selfridge was far ahead of his time.
Many of his ideas and innovations such as staff training, merchandising and customer service were revolutionary at the time but in today’s context, to be expected in retail marketing.
So what did he do right – and what lessons can we learn from the great man who lost his retail empire when his gambling addiction drove him into debt and he was kicked out of the Board.
But he was an entrepreneur who boldly introduced many new concepts in retail that we now take for granted.
Harry Selfridge was never shy about doing things differently. He innovated and was ahead of his time. He introduced concepts such as staff welfare and staff training which motivated the people who worked for him.
He was one of the first to embrace radio, then a first, television when it was still a new invention and the records.
His ability to identify changing correctly and giving his customers the opportunity to experience such amenities, earned him not just the laurels but also resulted in a greater foot fall for his store.
Encourage customer aspiration –
Women from working class background could now touch and feel the silks, the expensive hats and clothing for themselves – and even if they could not afford it, they could collect the designs and make the dresses themselves.
Selfridges introduced affordable perfumes – made with synthetic fragrances made possible by advances in science – to the masses who loved it.
Their perfumes, ready to wear clothing, a first for British high street stores and the concept of browsing when shopping,g revolutionized the concept of shopping and gave millions of customers something to look forward to.
Power of Promotion in Entrepreneurship –
Selfridges was one of the pioneers of advertising and promotion – he understood the value of amplifying the store and its various products and services.
He spent lavishly on advertising budgets and even got involved in creating advertisements. He was on the threshold of change – as the power of promotion and advertising came to the retail sector, he is known as the man who made it possible for them to see the effect it had on customers.
Value-addition as a customer attraction –
Selfridges went beyond the then accepted norm of a department store – it offered everything from post office services to information available on train tickets, theatre and everything else.
His talents in entrepreneurship were visible through many innovations and this was one of them.
There were salons, restaurants, rest rooms and everything that customers would need to spend a day at the store.
Value addition was not a concept that was accepted or known to the early retail industry – Selfridges perfected adding value not just to products – offering ready made clothes when bespoke fashion was still very much in – but to the very concept of shopping.
Able to identify changing trends correctly –
One of his greatest traits in entrepreneurship was being able to identify changing trends correctly.
Selfridges was at the right place at the right time – women were becoming more independent as 20th century progressed.
They went to work and had money to spend on little luxuries. They were more conscious of new habits such as shopping on their own unchaperoned at a store.
Fashions were changing – mostly thanks to Hollywood creating dreams on the screen and women were becoming conscious of following the latest trends of their favorite movie stars.
Selfridges encompassed it all at his great store.
We can learn so much from this great man who despite all his achievements, went on to make silly decisions that would cost him his store.
What lessons can we learn from him? Plenty.