- Harry Gordon Selfridge
Harry Gordon Selfridge, Sr. (
January 11, 1858– May 8, 1947) was an American-born retail magnate, who founded the British department store Selfridges.
Selfridge was born in
Ripon, Wisconsin, USA[http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/wlhba/articleView.asp?pg=1&orderby=&id=11176&pn=1&key=selfridge&cy= The Yankee Who Taught Britishers That 'the Customer Is Always Right'] , Milwaukee Journal, September 7, 1932.] on January 11, 1858, [United States Passport application for 21 April 1915] but within months of his birth moved to Jackson, Michigan. His father did not return home after the Civil War although he had been honourably discharged, [ [http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/arts/book_week.shtml 'Shopping, Seduction and Mr Selfridge' by Lindy Woodhead, on BBC Radio 4] ,] so his mother supported the family by teaching school. In 1879 he joined the retail firm of Field, Leiter and Company (which became Marshall Field and Company.) Over the following twenty-five years Gordon Selfridge worked his way up the commercial ladder. He was appointed a junior partner, married Rosalie Buckingham (of the prominent Chicago Buckinghams), and amassed a considerable personal fortune.
While at Marshall Field, he was the first to promote Christmas sales with the phrase "Only __ Shopping Days Until Christmas", a catchphrase which quickly was picked up by retailers in other markets. Either he or
Marshall Fieldis also credited with originating the phrase "The customer is always right." [ [http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/106700.html The customer is always right ] ] He didn't make up that phrase out of whole cloth. Hotelier César Ritz advertised in 1908, 'Le client n'a jamais tort' ('The customer is never wrong'). He translated the slogan and gave it a positive twist.Fact|date=July 2007 John Wannamaker took note of the advertising, and was soon using that phrase in promoting his Philadelphia-based department store chain.
In 1906 Gordon Selfridge travelled to
London, Englandwith his wife Rosalie. He was unimpressed with the quality of existing British stores and he decided to invest some £400,000 in building his own department store in what was then the unfashionable western end of Oxford Street. The new store, Selfridges, opened to the public on March 15, 1909. It set new standards for the retailing business.
At that time, women were beginning to enjoy the fruits of emancipation by wandering unescorted around the city of London. A canny marketer, Selfridge promoted the radical notion of shopping for pleasure rather than necessity. The store was extensively promoted through paid
The shop floors were structured so that goods could be made more accessible to customers. There were elegant restaurants with modest prices, a library, reading and writing rooms, special reception rooms for French, German, American, and "Colonial" customers, a First Aid Room, and a Silence Room, with soft lights, deep chairs, and double-glazing, all intended to keep customers in the store as long as possible. Staff members were taught to be on hand to "assist" customers, but not to aggressively "sell" the merchandise.
Selfridge's wife Rosalie died in the influenza pandemic of 1918. As a widower, Selfridge had numerous liaisons, including those with the celebrated
Dolly Sistersand the divorcée Syrie Barnardo Wellcome, who would later become better known as the decorator Syrie Maugham. He also maintained a busy social life with lavish entertainment at his home in Lansdowne House located at 9 Fitzmaurice Place, in Berkeley Square. Today there is a blue plaquenoting that Gordon Selfridge lived there from 1921 to 1929. At the height of his fortune he also leased, as his family home, Highcliffe Castlein Hampshire. In addition, he purchased Hengistbury Head, a mile-long promontory on England's southern coast, where he planned to build a magnificent castle. The land was put up for sale in 1930.
Later life and death
During the years of the
Great Depression, Gordon Selfridge watched his fortune rapidly decline and then disappear -- a situation not helped by his continuing his free-spending ways. In 1941 he left Selfridges and moved from his lavish home. In 1947 he died in straitened circumstances, at Putney, in south-west London. Gordon Selfridge was buried in St Mark's Churchyard at Highcliffe, next to his wife and his mother.
Selfridge authored a book, "The Romance of Commerce", published by John Lane in 1918, but actually written several years prior. In it, he has chapters on ancient commerce, China, Greece, Venice, Lorenzo de Medici, the Fuggers, the Hanseatic League, fairs, guilds, early British commerce, trade and the Tudors, the East India Company, north England’s merchants, the growth of trade, trade and the aristocracy, Hudson’s Bay Company, Japan, and representative businesses of the 20th century.
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 good will.
*The boss inspires fear; the leader inspires enthusiasm.
*The boss says "I"; the leader, "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!"
*The customer is always right.
* [http://www.selfridges.co.uk Selfridges]
* [http://www.jackpot.co.uk/online-casino-articles/gambling-legends-gordon-selfridge.html Gordon Selfridge: The Gambler]
* [http://blog.oup.com/oupblog/2007/01/lives_across_th.html Biography from the DNB]
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