I think many of us felt a little sorry when Gerald Ratner made that speech that lead to his eventual exit from his own father’s jewellery company. Especially when, as transpired, he’d said the same ‘crap’ joke at many speeches before. But this time, for whatever reason, the press went crazy and it cost him is very well paid job.
One of the reasons I picked this book up, which was recommended on a business list, was to find out why why losing his job caused him to lose his fortune too.
You’d think he’d know enough about money to ensure invested well for all eventualties. Turns out his London property was owned by his company, his own house was mortgaged to the hilt just as the property crash happened and the shares of his company went down due to his comment leading to dive in sales, but he had to sell to stay afloat.
Running Ratners is all he ever thought he would do.
He does, however, know how to build a business. He wanted to make his beloved father’s company the largest jeweller in the world and he almost did that. Most certainly the way I remember it, the four jewellery brands under Ratner did equate them to be the largest jewellery retailer in the UK and they’d already expanded into the US by buying up chains there.
It was interesting to get an idea of his background to learn what drove Ratner Junior to be in awe of his Dad and wanting to take over the business in the first section, The Rise. There were some lows, notably his sisters suicide. This came after the parents insistence that her boyfriend converted to Judaism before they could get married. He was fine with it, but then the rabbi still refused him and eventually couldn’t take the pressure and broke off the engagement.
But in the main, this book means business. For jewellery, it’s all about the window. Did you know that all diamond rings are 42″ from the ground to be at eye level of average height woman 5’4″. I’ve since checked – it’s true! Also it was important for Ratners to keep the same stock for a long time to aid people saving for engagement rings. They also had the exact same window displays in all shops to force items to become best sellers; people buy what they see often.
The world changed in the 80s though with the rising popularity of credit cards and even more since with the want-it-now generation.
Fun fact: my home town of Bedford had the pleasure of being the 5th Ratners shop.
One of the business lows was losing their buyer Terry, who has been given a lot of credit for Ratner’s success. Alarmingly, he’d managed to set up his own retail business while still at Ratners! Of course he had to leave and eventually his small chain of Terry’s stores was bought by Ratners and he was persuaded to come back as part of the deal. Of course by this time, he’d built his fortune and didn’t necessarily need the salary, although there was a tricky divorce taking place.
At this time, Ratners considered the Terry’s model to be the best and they too became a cheap jeweller rather than the stiff one that Gerald’s father and uncle had originally created. They also bought H Samuels and eventually American chain Sterlings. This is when Ratner discovered that firstly, Americans liked boutique brands so large retailers have stores under different names that locals respond to.
Secondly Americans pay their employees far more – their president got paid more than him! I’ve always felt Americans regard their retail employees much more seriously than the UK do, where working in stores is seen as a low-level stop-gap.
Although that speech proved disastrous, we learn some of other times when Ratner used the press to work in his favour, like when he spread the rumour that Ratners should be the ones to save another family jewellery chain who were in danger of going under.
I don’t recall Next – then still run by George Davis – starting a jewellery arm though. It didn’t work because they tried to make it upmarket and Next customers were expecting costume jewellery, as the author explains.
For all his rise and fall and rise again, Ratner does seem big headed even when talking about restarting his online jewellery business in the Noughties. He talks about the time of not needing offices or staff and so bragging about how many shops/staff you manage being a measure of success, became invalid. Several times he states he was Britain’s biggest online jeweller.
I’m all for ambition & yes it’s true, but give it a rest. It’s in the same category as people who feel the need to put they have an OBE on their social media profiles.
Ratner is still rather unlikeable even with the help of a ghost writer. His business theory seems solid but I can’t really feel sorry for someone who was worth £12m but too arrogant to look after his personal wealth & downgraded spectacularly after the press got wind of his crap jokes.
Just because your name is on the door, does not mean you are sheltered from catastrophe.
To complete the stereotype, after the breakdown of his first marriage, he hired a new PA and then married her.
However, for a business story, this book is thoroughly enthralling.