How Ted Baker turned their business into a global retail success

Ray Kelvin, the founder of UK brand Ted Baker is likely to have a long line of job applicants after stretching out his 25 minute slot to more than an hour at Retail Week Live, holding the rapt attention of jaded retail veterans as he talked about some of the fashion label’s unique ways of doing business that have turned it into the global success it is today.

For Kelvin, having good people around him, and empowering them has been hugely important. He said that when people join, “You make them feel entrepreneurial, make them feel like the guvnor. How many businesses do you get that in?”

At Ted Baker’s North London offices, that means ensuring they have their business, cards, a box of chocolates, and a phone on their first day (so far so normal). But, unlike other companies, new starters at Ted Baker wear jump leads attached their body because they’re starting with the business, and an ID badge that says what their drink of choice is, so their colleagues know what to make them.

“When you join everybody gives you a hug, we indoctrinate people into the brand. You’ve got to love people. I don’t get upset about corporate mistakes but I get upset about personal issues, if people don’t get on,” he said.

This kind of an atmosphere, where staff know that they are a valued part of a team, means that they give more when necessary, and has meant that there is huge longevity amongst staff in the business, simply because Kelvin has built an environment where coming to work is a “hoot”.

However, punctuality is a key for those joining the retailer, with Kelvin saying: “If you’re late you have to do press ups, if you do sit ups you know you’re on your way out.”

He also described the business’ unique ways of capturing customer attention – when the business first opened a store near Covent Garden, it would give customers bags of dyed-blue water with pieces of carrot to look like goldfish inside with their purchases, and at the height of the AIDS crisis would give out condoms with slogans on them, including one that said: “You get gold for coming second.”

He also said that the Ted Baker way of doing things even filters down to its annual report – with last years’ being done like a “best in show” dog book, complete with dog bite taken out of the corner, and its 10th anniversary report (10 years afloat) being covered in a flotation device that could be blown up.

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