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As 2012 draws to a close…….

2012 has been a year of new experiences, some amazing highs and one or two lows, and a very steep learning curve! I feel as if I have been travelling relentlessly, and am on constant information overload, but I really wouldn’t have it any other way. The rush towards the end of the year has been a whirlwind of meetings, Christmas events and parties, with the occasional leaving do thrown in, and a very special trip to New York with my daughter.

It started with a quick fire round of strategy and sign off meetings, the first in the planning process for AW13. There are never enough hours in the day (I am beginning to think that I say this a lot!) to complete all of these meetings as comprehensively as is really necessary, and it is a tribute to the talent, enthusiasm and commitment of my buying team, and the merchandisers and designers, that what we see in these sign offs, makes it to the shop floor looking so strong, so unique, and as competitive as any other high street fashion retailer. I am very proud of all of them, and what they have achieved in the past year, and I am really looking forward to what 2013 may bring.

Following all of this I headed off to New York, with my teenage daughter for a weekend of shopping and sightseeing, culminating in a visit to Madison Square Garden, to see One Direction in concert – my excuse is that this was for teen clothing research, but if I’m honest, I haven’t had so much fun in ages! The whole city had gone One Direction mad, there was even a 1D store, outside which there was a permanent, and very long, queue to get in! The level of excitement inside the iconic stadium was infectious, and the decibel level was like nothing I have ever experienced before – it was one of the highlights of my year!

There then followed a couple of days out with one of our area managers, on my “Christmas Visits” – now this was an element of the job which was new to me, something which all of the heads of and directors get involved in, and consisted of visiting a number of stores, to thank all of the staff for their hard work over the year, and wish them a Happy Christmas. I am still struggling with the concept that a visit from me is worth looking forward to, in fact I find it very amusing, and slightly alarming, but I guess I didn’t go empty handed, dishing out gift vouchers to all in thanks for all their support. My tour of Essex took in Rayleigh, Canvey Island, Billericay, Brentwood, Wickford, Upminster, and Loughton, amongst others, and it was a real eye-opener. Seeing so many stores in such a concentrated period of time really highlighted some of the challenges that the business is facing, and also reminded me that we should all be out visiting stores more often, in order to better understand our customer, and her needs, wants, likes and dislikes.

If we want to drive sales more effectively in such a tough economic climate, we are going to have to find better ways to connect with our customer and encourage her to part with her cash in our stores, as opposed to our competitors. The whole high street has gone on sale earlier, discounting deeper, opening longer hours, and offering additional enticements to drive sales, but though this will help sell through Autumn/Winter stock, it will not necessarily generate additional profit. The British high street in 2013 is going to see the survival of the fittest!

Despite the economic doom and gloom, for all of us, it would be difficult to deny that it has been an inspirational year, with the London Olympics, Paralympics, and The Golden Jubilee, as well as the announcement of the impending birth of a royal baby – which can only be a good thing for the childrenswear market! More recent events, however, have reminded me that every single day is precious, and that we can never take life, our families, our health or our happiness for granted. If I have one New Years resolution, it is to make the most of every single moment, and to concentrate on getting the best out of life.

This edition of my blog is dedicated to the memory of Chris Jones, a young man who tragically lost his life on Christmas Day. My heartfelt sorrow and deepest sympathies are with his family. To those who knew him, the world will seem a smaller place without him.

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