Having a pop at shopkeepers is not a new phenomena, Napoleon described England as a 'nation of shopkeepers' to suggest it was unfit for war against France. Source The country has been governed by a shopkeepers daughter in the divisive figure of Margaret Thatcher. The health of our High Streets acts as a barometer for the health of the economy.
As a child I grew up knowing nothing other than a family retail business. My family had two electrical retail businesses operating, still in the 1970s, a pre war economic model. The company, CF Hall & Co Ltd, bore my grandfather's name and employed my mother, father, elderley aunts, uncles, my grandmother and various seemingly ancient retainers. As babies myself and my siblings were parked outside the shops in prams as the shop never generated salaries large enough for childcare. Customer service, the kind where you know every customer by name, their address and their personal preferences was automatic.
As a young teenager - actually twelve if the truth be known - I was 'made' to work in the shop. This was not a matter of forced labour but economic fact. Money was earnt. The shop I worked in was in an extremely affluent location populated by titled and/or wealthy inhabitants. These customers patronised our shop in the old fashioned meaning of the word and very often patronised me in the more contemporary sense. I 'served' in the shop - I didn't function within an articulated customer service policy.
Growing up in white middle class Surrey can do one of two things. It can make you a lifelong Tory or a rebel. I chose rebel, I chose punk, I chose counter culture. My Dad wanted me to go to University as a pioneer for our family - I wanted art college. The era, the early 80s, gave me a a fabulous set of mouthy left wing role models Morrissy, Paul Weller, Billy Bragg, Siouxsie Sioux, Boy George.
After a year at Art College I ended up at The University of Warwick in the last few golden years where a poor kid like me from limited means could get their fees paid and a full maintenace grant because of now divorced parents. My natural rebellion and embryonic politics were developed with a fine line in Marxist Feminist rhetoric. Laura Mulvey was a way of life.
Post University I worked extrememly hard for barely more than an intern's salary in London until a surprisingly speedy marriage and even speedier unplanned pregnancy necessitated a move back to Surrey.
Major recessions and life changing moments for me seem to go hand in hand. There was no 4x4 and Venture photo shoot lifestyle for me. Like a lot of Mothers work was not a choice but a financial necessity. I joined my own Mother in her bridal wear business as a temporary measure.
That was nearly eighteen years ago. I didn't start the business because I was in love with weddings or because I wanted to live like a princess in perpetuity. I joined as an employee and I brought to the business an independant feminist streak. A lack of fear in being outspoken. An age very close to the clients - 26 at the time. I bought fashion in a time of frills.
Why, you ask, do I need to explain all of this to you? I have recently read an article that has incensed me so much that I still cannot be calm about it. I very much appreciate the freedom of expression that Blogging brings to the world. There is a line though between opinion and trolling. The article purported to be an undercover investigative piece looking at a wedding dress shop ( not my shop to be absolutely clear) - the first in a series.
The BBC, arbitor of all things fair, has an editorial policy that reads -
"When we make allegations of wrong doing, iniquity or incompetence or lay out a strong and damaging critique of an individual or institution the presumption is that those criticised should be given a "right of reply", that is, given a fair opportunity to respond to the allegations before transmission"
In a new age of social media the law governing what is fair and just is foggy. I accept hurtful and spiteful reviews on Review Centre. These are opinions and are read as such. They have also, on some occasions, been useful in highlighting areas that need improving. I would still welcome a complaint directly. A letter or email clearly pointing out where Miss Bush has gone wrong and where we can improve. ( A full time receptionist would be one area if the budget allowed - interns wecome!)
I feel that blogs that are set out in a magazine format, accept advertising revenue and move to publish a magazine should have an articulated editorial policy to protect victims from smear campaigns as much as protecting themselves from legal action. I would hate them to diminish through poor editorial judgement.
The reason for the brief synopsis of my life is to demonstrate a belief in rebellion as a force of good. Free speech as a fundamental right. I also believe that women working in service industries such as retailing do not deserve to be patronised as I was when I was 15. If acting like a rock star, posturing for the praise of strangers, is the driving force behind one's strategy I suggest picking up a guitar.
I am not presuming to talk for all women in bridalwear shops. I know I and my team work long, hard hours - we love playing dress up, we adore the clothes and most of our customers get on with is brilliantly. I fully expect some people not to find my service deferential enough. I refuse to tell you you look beautiful in everything if you don't. I reserve the right to integrity. Once - an only once - have I asked a customer to leave.
I have stood strong and upright in the shop in the face of huge personal adversity because I have an commitment and obligation to my clients.
This is hardcore