Here I am in WH Smith today with Izobel.

I am reading The Gruffalo crouched on the floor.

Izobel is lost in the story… ecstatic as the characters come to life.

They come to life because in the two to three feet of distance that exist between us we’ve created a brilliant, beautiful experience.

She is giggling at me.

I am fashioning different voices for foxes, owls, snakes and The Gruffalo himself from thin air.

We are totally, totally lost in each other and in the experience that Izobel and I have created together.


If we zoom back just a little from our beautiful bubble, we see a different kind of experience.

A WH Smith staffed by miserable bastards on the ground floor in Newcastle City Centre and no one at all on the first floor.

It is December 1st and no one that is there wants to be there.

They sigh.

They shuffle around.

No one looks at us.

They moan at each other about being at work and recall tales of getting pissed, annoying relatives and (quote), ‘shit Christmas presents’.

Lisa wanders freely around the scruffy store as Izobel and I dance around in our made-up world.

The store is not dirty.

But half open boxes are strewn around.

It’s just horribly untidy.

Ladders stand against walls.

Black and white A4 photocopies of what displays should look like after the grumbling staff have restocked them were sellotaped to empty shelves.

Not A Complaint. 

This is not a complaint about my experience today.

I was fine.

I had Izobel and The Gruffalo.

It is simply a relaying of what I saw in yet another lazy, unimaginative, dusty, crappy, unprogressive, ideas-vacuum of a retail brand that is bleeding to death.

All of the stuff they were doing today should have been done through the night.

Out of eyesight of any customer.

And if through the night is not the answer, then the brand leadership should find an alternative.

No question.

Touchpoint after touchpoint after touchpoint left me feeling utterly empty and sad for the soon-to-be-redundant leaderless tribe let down by their visionless, idealess leadership.

WH Smith’s leadership will no doubt claim to have no idea why the brand disappears from our highstreet in the next year or two.

The answer to why they will have no idea, is that they have no ideas.

This is not ‘a shame’.

It is simply embarrassing, obvious and fucking disgusting.

1 Comment

  1. Brilliantly perceptive, as always, Michael.

    This is why an old sod like me says that overpaid corporate executives can never compete successfully with decent, kind and creative independent business owners. They delegate looking after customers to the bottom of the pyramid and they’re happy to live in their status bubble which can’t see what goes on right down there with us plebs – the customers. Winning and keeping customers and loving them telling their friends and family about why they like buying from us is our passion as indie business owners. It’s a disgrace – shabby shop and shabby treatment of their staff and people like us.

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