Invest, listen and evolve – lessons for family firms from Jarrold director
PUBLISHED: 16:26 31 January 2018 | UPDATED: 16:53 31 January 2018
Archant Norfolk 2018
That was the advice from Michelle Jarrold when she spoke to other family-run businesses about her experience taking the department store group into the 21st century.
Jarrold and Sons is a seventh-generation-run company with its history dating back to 1770 when it started out as a printing and stationery operation.
Now, as well as its flagship Norwich department store, which sells stationery, clothing, beauty products, food and much else besides, it has a book shop, furniture store, training service and sports shop with a combined turnover of £34m and around 400 employees.
Ms Jarrold, the development, marketing and fashion director, said while the heritage and legacy of the brand was important it was also key to bring in non-family members, such as outgoing managing director Peter Mitchell, to make sure the business was well placed to navigate modern markets. She said: “If you can get the best combination of family and non-family working collaboratively that is very helpful.
“Family businesses which assume that only family should be involved can be difficult if you don’t have people with the right skills or motivation.
“Of course you can then have the challenge of motivating non-family members if they are not shareholders so you have to ensure they are looked after.”
Despite tough times in the retail sector and for businesses in general, Jarrold has managed to thrive which Ms Jarrold said was down to having a clear vision and understanding its customer base.
While the company has embraced the internet, with 75% of its items stocked online, 5% of turnover coming from web sales and a social media strategy, Ms Jarrold said there was a focus on providing an experience in-store for customers and making shopping as straightforward as possible.
The coming year will be an exciting time for Jarrolds as the company continues to reinvest, something Ms Jarrold said was vital for family firms to stay relevant, by refreshing its Pilch sports shop and launching own brand deli food.
Ms Jarrold said one of the hardest decisions for the business had been to sell off the printing arm which made it famous, publishing books such as Black Beauty, but said it had been done for the good of the company.
She said: “We sold the business and unfortunately it did not survive which was a great shame but actually there was an exposure to the whole of the Jarrold company had we not made that decision.”
Ms Jarrold was speaking at a breakfast event at the department store’s Benji cafe for East Anglia Family Business Day, which is organised by Family Business United alongside law firm Birketts.
The event celebrates family-run firms across the region and names a family business of the year.
Family Business United’s Paul Andrews said succession was one of the key issues for such companies currently.
He said: “We have got a real glut of family businesses in the UK now approaching that transition stage with founders looking to step back or take it on to the next stage.
“Often people are scared to have those conversations because they are worried about what the answer might be but it is important to have those conversations early.”
Head of the Birketts family-owned business team Adam Jones added firms needed to professionalise their processes and have a charter in place so everyone was on the same page when it came to change.