OPINION: Michelle Mone on climate change

When Michelle Mone was making her way to a dinner dance, adjusting an uncomfortable cleavage-enhancing bra, she never dreamed that 14 years later she would be receiving an OBE from The Queen as one of the UK’s most celebrated women in business. The entrepreneur explains the secret of her success and describes how the lessons she has learnt are benefiting her in this economic climate.

“At the moment, people are scared. They are unsure about the future.

I could see this happening quite a number of years ago and I thought, ‘right, we don’t want to rely just on lingerie’.

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So, that is why I wanted to start and focus on Ultimo Beauty, which is launching next March. Ultimo bath and body, Ultimo tan and Ultimo perfume. And, we have got three body creams, which do wonderful things for your body.

If it wasn’t for the current economic situation, I probably wouldn’t have set this up so soon, to be honest. But, I am seeing that, now, you are having to work much harder to get the same result. And, I think that you should never put all your eggs in one basket. And at the moment we are a lingerie company but, next year, we will be a beauty company as well… Beauty is on the increase. Clothing is on the decline. I want a bit of that cake. I want to spread out the risk.

People need to look at the way they have been doing business and change it. Change is good. And, I think, especially in this climate, brands can’t stay the way they are. If it’s working, then keep doing what’s working but, if you are struggling for sales and for new customers, then the only way is to change and to move your brand on.

People can’t sit back and think, for example, ‘we are M&S.’ It doesn’t matter. Customers are a lot more savvy than they have ever been before. People don’t have to continue spending their money with the same people. I don’t think that the loyalty is there the way it used to be there, because consumers are feeling that they are not being treated fairly.

Some retailers are moving on, but I believe that some others have to focus more on the customer and get in tune with what their needs are. This isn’t a case of discounting all the time. I think that discounting all the time is bad and it is only going to get worse. Because, actually, brands can’t afford to keep on going the way they are going and manufacturing prices, in the Far Fast, for example, are going through the roof. Something has got to give.

You have just got to give consumers a reason to buy. It is all about service, as well. Time is money. People are stressed. They don’t want to go in to have bad service. They want speedy service. Consumers are a lot more demanding than they have ever been.

They want brands that will give that point of difference… Be different. If you are the same as everyone else, then it does come down to price, doesn’t it? You have to be different from your competitors and know your competitors better than they know themselves. There are a lot of brands out there who are saying ‘we are such and such, and we are fine’, but I don’t think anyone is fine. Next year is going to be the hardest year. Definitely. You only have to look in terms of what is going on in the world…

I think there are three key groups who can actually make a major difference. Number one is the banks. They have got to start lending to first time buyers and get the housing market moving. Once you sort out the housing market, everything else starts to click into place.

The government has got a huge role to play. But, all we are hearing about is the problems and we are never hearing any solutions of what they are going to do.

The third group of people is the media… Every time you pick up a newspaper and you turn on Sky News, ITN news, it is all doom and gloom. They need to start reporting in a more positive way.

I would love to get a few top business people that I really respect, sit them round a table with a few key bankers, along with some people from the government – though I don’t know who that would be, to be honest – and also the media. They could call it the powerful twenty. I believe they would have a massive impact in sorting this mess out.

Our company structure has changed dramatically, because as it has changed outside, we have changed with it. The companies that don’t are the companies that are not here anymore. And, touch wood, we will still be here for a long time.

Every single day is a battle and I never rest on my laurels at all. And, I think that is what keeps you hungry and keeps you going. It is a risk of failure.”



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