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CEO Tinh Phung
"People will sit up and take notice of you if you will sit up and take notice of what makes them sit up and take notice." ~ HG Selfridge Before I ever visited the UK,...

"People will sit up and take notice of you if you will sit up and take notice of what makes them sit up and take notice." ~ HG Selfridge

Before I ever visited the UK, I wasn’t familiar with Selfridges. I knew about London and Harrods, but Selfridges was a mystery to me. My first time in London, as I was traveling down Oxford Street, I spotted a sign that said "Selfridges" and I couldn't help but think, "strange name!" Little did I know that it would become one of the most prestigious department stores in London.

Selfridges Selfridges Department Store on Oxford Street

The Visionary Founder

Harry Gordon Selfridge, a US-born entrepreneur, initially earned his business experience working for Marshall Field & Company, a department store in Chicago. After making a quick profit by purchasing and reselling his own department store, he set his sights on a new venture: a custom-built, mega-department store in London. With a grand vision and £400,000, he purchased land in the then-unfashionable western end of Oxford Street.

A Monumental Retail Emporium

Selfridge faced many challenges in making his dream store a reality. The London press was skeptical of the American invasion into London commerce, and the city's daily and drapery trade press described it as such. Nevertheless, Selfridge remained determined to create a "monumental retail emporium" that would elevate the business of a merchant to the dignity of science.

Daniel Burnham Selfridges Architect, Daniel Burnham

The construction of Selfridge's store was an architectural coup. The innovative use of steel frames and reinforced concrete allowed for large plate-glass windows, flooding the store with natural light. The store had nine passenger lifts, two service lifts, and 100 separate departments spread across eight floors. Despite facing objections from the London City Council, Selfridge succeeded in completing his vision.

Customer-Centered Innovations

Selfridge was a pioneer in many aspects of retailing. He believed in the power of advertising and used it imaginatively to promote his store. He introduced the concept of "shopping for pleasure," creating a welcoming environment where customers could enjoy their shopping experience. Selfridge utilized window dressing to showcase the latest fashions, deviating from the traditional practice of hiding goods under counters.

Selfridges Interior Interior of Selfridges Department Store

Selfridge's vision went beyond being just a shop. He added elegant restaurants, reading and writing rooms, and special reception rooms for different clientele. He even utilized the store's roof as a shooting range for an all-girl gun club and an ice rink. His commitment to providing a holistic experience set Selfridges apart from its competitors.

The Department Store for Women

Selfridge saw the department store as more than just a place for shopping. He endorsed the Suffragette Movement and dedicated part of his store to "woman's service." He made shopping a leisure activity specifically for women, creating a welcoming environment with floral arrangements, music performances, beauty and hair salons, and public restrooms for women.

Selfridges Advertisement Advertisement for Selfridges: The Modern Woman's Club-Store

The Leadership Style

Contrary to the authoritarian leaders of his time, Selfridge adopted a fair and inclusive approach to his employees. He increased their wages and treated them as valued members of his team. His philosophy was "first get them in, then keep them there." Selfridge believed in inspiring enthusiasm rather than fear, and his innovative leadership style set him apart.

The Legacy Lives On

Selfridges continued to thrive and grow after World War I, with the store's size doubling. However, the Great Depression and Selfridge's extravagant spending led to his decline. He sold the company and retired, but Selfridges remained a prominent institution on the London commercial scene. Today, Selfridges is still standing strong, with its flagship store on Oxford Street and three other branches.

Selfridges Birmingham Bullring store Selfridges Birmingham Bullring Store

Selfridges, the brainchild of Harry Gordon Selfridge, revolutionized the retail industry with its innovative strategies and customer-centered approach. Despite facing challenges along the way, Selfridges remains an iconic department store that continues to shape the shopping experience for generations to come.

PostScript: In 1966, Selfridges recognized the youth market and launched a separate store for young women called Miss Selfridge. This move further solidified the store's commitment to staying relevant and on-trend.

*Source: Original article adapted from here.

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