Mary Queen of Shops Arrives on American TV

Oct 23, 2009

By Bernice Hurst, Contributing Editor, RetailWire

Queen of Shops, a British television import, reached American airwaves in mid-October.
The reality show features fashion guru Mary Portas as she attempts to pull
back boutiques from the brink of insolvency.

reviews back when it first appeared on British television eighteen months ago
were mixed. No such doubts assailed The New York Times as
the series launched on American television. Unlike chef Gordon Ramsay, Ms.
Portas has not attempted to replicate her visitations on U.S. soil. Viewers
will see the original, unadulterated, U.K. version, warts and all.

the retailers on Ms. Portas’ resumé are Harrods, Top Shop and Harvey Nichols.
Her entry in Wikipedia describes her huge success in each store, specifically
in the fashion and beauty departments. Apparently she also “regularly travels
around the world advising on retail strategy and frequently lectures on the
theme of brands and retail.” Ms. Portas’ website (
claims “Mary is one of the U.K.’s foremost authorities on retail and brand
communication and is credited with turning Harvey Nichols into the modern fashion
powerhouse that it is.”

the show, Ms. Portas first visits the featured boutique while the owners are
away. Once they return, she delivers an often-scalding verdict on why the owners
and staff’s choices and even their attitudes are ruining their business. She
then guides them through a revamp.

for The New York Times, Ginia
Bellafante sneers at both Mary Portas and her victim. She spews vitriol at
the celebrity’s attitude, appearance (“a razor-thin mouth that never seems
to shut and a severely angular haircut that says, ‘I look fabulous, and you
look like a big, bulbous turnip.'”) and self-proclaimed expertise (“What I
don’t know about shops isn’t worth knowing.”).

Viner, reviewing the show in The Independent back
in June 2008, was more favorably impressed with Ms Portas’ influence on small-store
owner, Amanda Collins. By the end of that episode, the store’s name and inventory
were changed along with the proprietor’s attitude towards potential customers.
Jane Murphy, on, said the same episode initially made her hate
the owner, an opinion she later revised when she realized the woman was simply
nervous in front of the camera (and Ms. Portas perhaps?). Despite the accompanying
cynicism, Mary Portas did, apparently, initiate improvements.

another episode, Ms. Portas attempted to make charity stores more commercially
aware but was described by one reviewer as “toe-curling” in spite of the increased
profit made by the branch on which the episode focused. Expertise and celebrity
in this case did have a positive impact even if not every customer approves
of the changes.

show began running in mid-October on BBC America,
Wednesday nights at 9, Eastern and Pacific times; 8, Central time.

Questions: Does a consultant offering store makeover advice make for good
entertainment in the U.S.? How much advice does the typical store owner or
chain, for that matter, need when it comes to store layout and design?

commentary] Bearing in mind the time lag, and the recession, it would be
interesting to know if any updates have been tagged onto the end of each
episode. Or perhaps we will all need to wait until the next series has been
commissioned and Ms. Portas has had time to write her next book.

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

Join the Discussion!

6 Comments on "Mary Queen of Shops Arrives on American TV"

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Dick Seesel
12 years 7 months ago

There is barely a subject you can think of that hasn’t been explored by a “reality TV” show. And the proliferation of cable channels with targeted audiences means that this trend is likely to continue. Let’s face it…reality programs are cheap to produce and often hold the same fascination for the audience as watching a car crash.

But most of us engaged in the business of consulting do not imagine that our work would make entertaining television. “Mary Queen of Shops” is just that–entertainment–and whether the consulting advice turns out to be productive and profitable for the clients in the long run is really beside the point.

Bob Phibbs
12 years 7 months ago

A&E tried this last year with the one-season, “We Mean Business” which I reviewed. The trouble with these shows is that the “experts” really are harpies with a bit of knowledge there to humiliate others. No consultant, speaker or trainer is like this.

It gives false hope to most businesses because it shows how bad someone else is, the struggling retailer can say, “Well I’m not THAT bad” and relax even more. Of course, if anyone from a production company is reading this–I’d be perfect for the job.

Marge Laney
12 years 7 months ago

I don’t know how I missed this one! (I just set my TiVo to record the series). As a reality show junkie, I like these shows. If it follows the usual format, I can see where it could be fun. It’s interesting to see transformations take place in the span of an hour viewed from my couch. Most of the time the solutions are pretty much formula; with the fun starting when the owner tries to buck the “expert.” In the end, most see the light and it’s hugs around. All good stuff, but as with Gordon Ramsey’s show, after awhile you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.

Ben Ball
12 years 7 months ago

Despite my deep seated inclination to want to like anything the New York Times hates–I think I’ll stick with my Bonanza reruns.

Pamela Danziger
Pamela Danziger
12 years 7 months ago

We already have had a few reality shows that venture into the retail space, including Peter Perfect and Tabatha’s Salon Takeover (this one I find particular sticky when channel surfing). Frankly, I don’t think the world needs another one, especially an import from the U.K. where the business of retail is so different from the U.S.

For this to work, they need to translate it to the U.S. market, e.g., What Not to Wear’s originators Trinny & Suzannah morphed into Clinton & Stacy in the U.S. market. And then they need to make it interesting for viewers who aren’t in the retail business, which may be the biggest challenge. I don’t know how Tabatha does it; I really enjoy her show, but I haven’t a bit of interest in the beauty salon business. Can’t say the same for Peter Perfect’s version, which I find blah!

Eliott Olson
Eliott Olson
12 years 7 months ago

Sainsbury, Marks & Spencer, Tesco and King George have all done so well in the colonies, it is only natural to bring on another know-it-all.


Take Our Instant Poll

How would you rate the appeal of a television show offering retail advice from a consultant?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...