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Sunday, 25 January 2015

BHS - HAPPY DAYS (MOSTLY)

I'm reading today that BHS is to be sold.

I have many fond memories of the company, going back to the days when it was fully named as British Home Stores, in Belfast.

I posted this short piece in January, 2011 - 


This week, a trip to Belfast brought back some very happy memories of my working life in the city centre.  Nearly forty years ago, I became a Trainee Manager in British Home Stores, since condensed to simpler and trendier BHS.  I stood outside one of the entrances and thought about the happy and not-so-happy memories.  I worked there in the 1970s, dark days in Northern Ireland, when murder, bombs, riots and high tension kept our senses alert and our nerves stretched.  But the happy times outweigh the rest.  

I remembered the camaraderie, team spirit, banter and that whole notion of people from different religious and social backgrounds working so well together. When the shop closed, we all went home (most evenings via the pub) on our separate ways behind walls, barriers and barricades, back to "our own people."  It was both ridiculous and crazy, but that's the way it was.  

Inside the store, two distinct memories came back.  The first was at the staircase in the corner where our manager stood on the fourth or fifth step to address the whole team every morning, ten minutes before opening.  On my first morning I was invited onto the stairs so that the team could have a good look at the new boy. Nervous and red-faced, I must have looked a picture.  

The second memory, as I climbed the stairs, was seeing the lighting department, my domain as department manager for more than a year. The thought of busy Saturday afternoons climbing rickety ladders to take down a light fitting makes me shudder in this health and safety era. But we did stuff in those days without thinking of anything more important that serving the customer well.  

My BHS Belfast (and beyond) days shaped me in many ways, instilling the retail lessons of shop floor inspections, the dangers of big-headedness (you might be a manager but the citizens of this city keep your feet on the ground), the development of a "can do" attitude and a genuine love for retailing. The memories and experiences of my "apprenticeship" years have been invaluable. 

I moved from Belfast to BHS, Manchester, then Romford, Wood Green, with holiday cover stints in Hackney and East Ham, before ending my eleven years in Head Office on the Marylebone Road, London.

Mostly happy days.......

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