Last week I looked at the garden centre world.  This week, prompted by reading more about the House of Fraser plans for the future, I turn my attention to the world of department stores. One of our annual treats as kids was to travel to Central Manchester to go and see Father Christmas at the House of Fraser store, Kendal’s. I am pleased that this is not one of the stores penciled for closure. The whole day was an adventure. We spent hours on the Toy floor, had lunch in the café and then saw Father Christmas who gave us an early Christmas present. 

Whilst at that age I would have been impressed by anything probably, I think it is this sense of theatre that is missing from the department store these days. The bar is higher these days. Just shopping does not work, there needs to be other stuff going on to draw customers in. Filling your central city space with a load of concessions simply means that many of our department stores, like Debenhams, have become shopping malls and have lost their heart.  No surprise then that this week, Debenhams announced profit warnings this week, and it will be no surprise if worse news follows later this year.

Every successful business needs a heart and a key product or service element that sets them apart from others.  Delis have their cheese counter. Farm shops have their farm produce, whether animal or vegetable. Garden centres have their plants, and as I said last week, I believe the passion will come back into many Wyevale Garden Centres once they are under different ownership. Department stores need to have a passionate centre if they are to continue. A sense of theatre and something exciting to bring people in. Being filled with concessions does not do it for me, or many other consumers who are voting with their feet.

When in Wales a couple of weekends ago we went to a new café for brunch and coffee. Nothing unusual about that and, as in many other town centres, there were several to choose from. However, this place is doing better than the others. First of all it is in a great building, an old car showroom, but more importantly, they have become known in the area for making their own most amazing doughnuts, with a selection of equally delicious fillings. It is the doughnuts that is their USP, their heart and their passion and people are queuing up. Think this week, what is the heart of your business, where is the passion and make sure that is where your energy is focused.