The Original One-Minute Marketer: Harry Selfridge

I found the recent PBS series Selfridges not only completely entertaining but also a fascinating historical lesson in how a master entrepreneur designed a fundamental marketing strategy that out foxed his competition and established one of the most successful retail operations in the history of merchandising.

The PBS series I am referring to, Selfridges, is the story of Harry Selfridge who was a merchandiser at the turn of the 20th century. A master promoter and marketing innovator who was way ahead of his time, Harry Selfridge has been credited with a statement that is the motto of most consumer centric marketers today: “The customer is always right.”  More quotes associated with Selfridge later. Perhaps you’ll be as shocked as I was to learn how many ingenious quotes (that are still in our vernacular) that are from this one man.

The Selfridge credo that put the customer above all else had three powerfully revolutionary components that formed its unshakable foundation:1) Selfridge had a savvy sense of identifying what customers want before even they knew. 2) He used innovative promotions to drive traffic to his store 3)He had a process to convert traffic once they entered the store. These are fundamental business principles that are still used today.

A highly creative marketer and risk taker, Selfridge was one of the first retailers to use celebrity endorsements, price-driven sales, in-store branding experiences, mass advertising, and encouraging customers to interact with the products.  Sound familiar? Here we are 104 years later, and these tactics are still the basis for most marketing plans.

But, the core of Selfridge’s success was the way he treated his employees. During a time period of managing by fear, Selfridge’s corporate culture strategy was to treat his employees (most of them women) with respect and encouragement and requested their ideas and input.  He believed that treating employees right would pay off with the way they would treat his customers. He was right.

Among the more popular quotations attributed to Selfridge:

  • 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.
  • The boss drives his men; the leader coaches them.
  • The boss depends upon authority, the leader on goodwill.
  • The boss inspires fear; the leader inspires enthusiasm.
  • The boss says “I”, the leader says “we.”
  • The boss fixes the blame for the breakdown; the leader fixes the breakdown.
  • The boss knows how it is done; the leader shows how.
  • The boss says, “Go;” the leader says, “Let’s go!”



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