A combination of ‘who you know’ and ‘what you know’ has resulted in Michael Laybourn, the long-time buyer of the Hoopers department store group, joining the Penmark retail team as a project-based consultant. Michael is to support Mark Rees, managing director of the Midlands-based retail group (which trades from 10 shops), working on a consultancy basis, initially on ‘Project Christmas’.
“What a strange year 2020 has turned out to be,” exclaimed Michael Laybourn, who after almost 30 years of working at Hoopers (which has department stores in Harrogate, Torquay, Tunbridge Wells and Wilmslow) was made redundant during lockdown. However, thanks to an introduction made by Becky Dobson, director of Glick, Michael is delighted to be back in the industry again, having now set up his own retail consultancy.
“While I was not actively looking for a job…and thinking that I’ll not be doing what I had been doing, I began to let friends in the industry of my redundancy,” explained Michael. “This was when Becky put me in touch with Mark at Penmark, who wasn’t looking for additional staff, but felt that he did want to take advantage of my retail and buying knowledge, especially on gift ranging across its stores.”
For Mark Rees, Michael getting in touch was a case of great timing. “With the lack of any trade shows and our drive to curate a more independent focus on our gift selection, being able to draw on Michael’s knowledge for our ‘Project Christmas’ on a consultancy basis seemed ideal.”
For Michael, whose wide buying experience spans cards, stationery, gifts, homewares, furniture bath and beauty, the opportunity to work alongside Mark and his team means his passion for products and retailing is not being wasted.
“I’m so excited to still be working in the industry that is constantly changing and evolving and helping the independent retailer survive on the High Street,” said Michael.
Certainly, retailing has been in Michael’s blood since he was a lad. “I began my retail career as a Saturday lad, selling liquorice all sorts for 15p a quarter at Lewis’s in Manchester while I was studying A levels at college. I worked extra days during holidays, soon discovering I had a love for the store, so much so that I dropped out of college and began working full time as a ‘mobile assistant’, taking me into various departments across the store, I was then invited to join their Management Training Scheme which provided a great foundation,” says Michael, who went on to work for John Lewis and then Hoopers, and now Penmark.
“It’s being fantastic working with Mark and his team, all of whom are responsive and enthusiastic to see changes in their business. It’s also great working with suppliers that I’ve built up relationships with as well as new ones that already work with Mark,” said Michael.