Thursday, 13 September 2007

Mummy Knows Best...

Last time I bumped into Sahar Hashemi (co-founder of Coffee Republic) she surprised me by saying how much she regretted selling Coffee Republic - simply because she couldn't go into one of their branches without getting annoyed about all the changes they had made to 'her' brand, and basic things they should be doing right but which they were doing wrong. (And this is despite cashing out for what I'm sure was a lot of dosh at the time.)

Well I have to say I had the same feeling when, out of curiosity, I sent for a Red Letter Days brochure last week, and it turned up in the post this morning (only a week on, but then 2nd class post IS a lot cheaper).

First strange thing is that I only ever received one mailshot from Red Letter Days post my departure - strange for a mail order company, especially as I had made many 'mystery shop' purchases under various aliases at various addresses over the years.

Someone in their marketing department being a little over-zealous with the data cleansing perhaps? Or, more likely, a bean counter swooning at the cost of each brochure mailshot -without realising that the annual brochure mailout was the engine room that ran the marketing of the business.

So the latest (flimsy, low-budget) brochure arrives this morning in a highly conspicuous bright red envelope.

Sensible choice of envelope you may think (being called Red Letter Days and all) - but not when you consider that over 70% of purchases are made by wife for husband (or vice versa), and the last thing you want when preparing a surprise gift for your nearest and dearest is something coming shouting and screaming through the letterbox.

Meanwhile, the iconic Red Letter Gift Box (created on commission by design guru and Channel 4 TV star Richard Seymour - at a cost of £100k - and consistently rated as the jewel in the crown of the company's branding collateral in all market research), barely receives a mention, let alone the honour of a photo in the brochure.

Perhaps the bean counter got rid of that too?

You can just imagine that happening at Tiffany's can't you? New FD arrives saying: 'Why do we need all these duck egg blue boxes, carrier bags and silk ribbon packaging anyway? Just think of the money we'll save...'

Then we have Peter and Theo's cheesy faces arrogantly grinning out of the intro page crowing how great they are, quite oblivious to the fact that to this day (over two years on) I STILL get emails quite out of the blue from various ex-RLD punters going on about 'how those two nicked your company' - and therefore that to a large proportion of the target customer base (white, middle England, fortysomething, female) this display of macho alpha-maleness is in marketing terms, actually a real turn-off.

And that's before we even get into the detail of the content - which rides roughshod over so many of the extensive learnings from all the market research conducted over the years it would be an absolute crying shame - if it were still my company of course.

Anyway, I hope I am not starting to sound like a bitter old witch - but I can't help identifying with Sahar over this.

Women don't create companies, they give birth to them.

And no matter how hard you try, and no matter how long after they have flown the nest, they will always in some way still be your baby.


Ian said...

This is the main reason that it is very hard to be a managing director looking after another persons company.
You get the job, you are told that there is trust in your ability and then you get told to "use those envelopes anyway" and that "you can't do that either"
Oh Joy!!!

Paul said...

Very sexist Rachel, I thought this arena was where Men give birth to business as well.

john said...

Let's face it. You were incompetent and your comments about the other two guys are just plain bitter jalousy.

Anne Herbert said...

How can we take you seriously John when you post annonymously? It would be great to see your credentials. Maybe you've done something so mind blowingly great you now have a right to call achievers incompetent?
If I could reach even a quarter of Rachel's achievment I would be very proud indeed, so if you have something to share...please teach me.

eric smith said...

The Hashemis made a hash of Coffee Republic. Under new management it has made more progress in 6 months than in 3 years previously!!

Gail Smurf said...

I am now on my second child having let my first go with my now ex-husband - I am speaking metaphorically of course - about businesses.

I really need investment and a bigger team (well any extra pair of hands really) to fast track myself forward to where I want and need to be with my newish business, but despite watch re-runs of Dragons Den all weekend I find it almost impossible to go that next step and let someone take a chunk of the last few years of re-training and a lot of personal expense and hard work. I feel like I am about to take the baby to nursery for the first time and wonder if it should stay at home with mommy for longer?

Maybe playing on the 'giving birth' scenario too much - but hope you get my point? And really it was to say - I do get exactly what you mean.

Daniel said...

Last time I bumped into my dad, he surprised me by saying how much he regretted being a bad father - simply because of the years he'd missed because of the basic things he should have done right but did wrong. (And this is despite knowing that beating your kids is not big or clever.)

Well I have to say I had the same feeling when, out of curiosity, I logged onto this website. My former employer and proverbial Mother (shudder), tearing into her kids and their adopted parents because they dare to see the world a different way.

I worked at RLD in the Rachel years but it's OK, we only spoke a couple of times and I never really got the feeling you were interested in who I was then. But I'm still here and have spent the last 2 years working hard to help the business recover after Peter & Theo stepped in to save the dreams of thousands of customers who thought they had lost their experiences.

For one of 'Britain’s highest profile female entrepreneurs', you'd have thought that the concept of saving money when your company is plunging into the red would be fairly simple, yet even now, the idea that there might be a better way just doesn't seem possible.

I can't give too much away obviously but you may be interested to know that recent feedback about the box suggested people resented the high postage costs and excessive packaging. So the iconic red pack has been redesigned, it is now cheaper to make, send and uses recyclable materials. This, along with the move away from large brochure print runs when consumer markets have moved online, is helping to secure the long term future of the company. Many impartial people reading this I'm sure would much prefer to have regularly updated and accurate content available on demand, rather than a heavy piece of static marketing material they never requested?

In the real world, who really cares who Richard Seymour is? I've worked here for 5 years and it's the first time I've heard of him! I tried looking him up on Google but then couldn't get past the self indulgent Flash based website. And that's really the problem isn't it as you note in your Northern Rock blog - 'Customer perception is the only reality'. People rejoiced in Red Letter Days failure because their perception of the company was one of arrogance and self importance. Style over content. All there for people to see on Dragon's Den on prime time TV.

Nobody stole the company. All those extensive learnings from all the market research were lost with the staff that were fired or walked out over the way they were treated. New people came in with new ideas and a new way of working and it's been really hard but now it's paying off. Move on. Red Letter Days has and everyone (customers, staff and suppliers alike) are much better off as a result.

john said...

Oh come on Anne Herbert. Rachel's hatred for Petetr Jones and Theo is just plain bitterness and she is obviously having trouble coping with the fact that others are making something out of her failures. Come to think of that, I can't remember her investing in very much on Dragon's Den. So much for being an entrepreneur. "Ohhh, I don't want to invest in an business I don't know much about". Well, obviously don't know much about much then. Just because someone made some money once does not mean that they are any good. People just get lucky sometimes.

One of the abilities of great leaders is to learn from mistakes, not dwell on them. If you can't move on then you stagnate. Rachel, time to move on. It's all very well slagging the competition off but it doesn't help anyone. People won't think more highly of you, they will just think you are a bitter drama queen.

Let's face it. the business failed. And there is only one person responsible: the woman in charge.

Rachel Elnaugh said...

Wow - I've only just re-visited this post and this is a record number of comments. Which I have not edited in any way. People have every right to their views (even if they are incorrect :-)

I think I could have agreed with a lot of the negative comments about me - had 'new' RLD posted a profit in its first year.

But it actually posted a £7.1 million loss.

I may have made a lot of mistakes in my time at RLD - but we never incurred a loss that big!!!

And while I'm quite aware of the hype put out that this loss was in some way to do with 'honouring vouchers in circulation', the fact was vastly played down that the company was sold out of administration with over £3million cash on a plate to the new owners in respect of those unused vouchers.

This was the money held back by Barclays which caused our cashflow difficulties and left us with no alternative but to put the company into administration.

And the underlying cost of fulfilling those vouchers? Nine months later, once they had all expired, we learned it was just over £1million.

I await with interest the next year's set of numbers - by which time the scapegoat excuses mounted against me by the new owners will most surely have run out.