Shopping is literally Laurie Barton Wright’s life. She’s forged a career in retail and gone right to the top.
Laurie, 41, is celebrating her first year as manager at the Frenchgate Centre in Doncaster, which has an annual turnover of £120million. The self-confessed shopaholic is passionate about making Doncaster town centre a go-to destination.
Q. The most obvious question first: you manage a shopping centre - are you a shopaholic?
A. Yes completely. I’m perfectly suited to this job. I can shop pretty much anywhere at any time - mainly for fashion and beauty, though I do like homewares if I’m in the mood. I hate food shopping though.
Q. What is your biggest shopping vice?
A. I’m a bit of a shoe and bag snob - they are the items I spend money on if I have it. Particularly handbags. I love fashion but I’m happy to be a high street girl with a few labels here and there. We have such great high street fashion stores like New Look and River Island (which I love right now) that you really don’t need to be in Harvey Nichols every week. Plus I can’t afford it!
Q. At Doncaster’s Frenchgate Centre, £120million is spent by shoppers every year. That’s good for the centre, but is it good for the economy - and shoppers’ bank accounts?
A. I’m not sure why it wouldn’t be. People need to shop, like shopping and will always shop whether the centre is here or not. Shopping is a pastime. I’m sure we aren’t twisting anyone’s arms. We have a great centre, a great location, a great range of shops for every budget and places to eat. The £120million spent goes back into the town, helping to provide a great facility and hundreds of jobs.
Q. Do you think the nation is approaching a shopping addiction?
A. Probably. We are very brand aware now - very influenced by media. And shopping is so accessible now, thanks to the high street, retail parks, supermarkets, outlets and online. It’s completely different to when I started almost 20 years ago. It’s good in some ways but there is more pressure, certainly on younger people, to look a certain way.
Q. Blame for destroying the heart of many a town and city centre has been laid at the door of the out of town shopping centre. Do you agree, or disagree?
A. I haven’t managed an out of town scheme – I’ve been a marketing manager in an outlet and have managed three shopping centres which were all in town or city centres.
Out of town schemes and the planning policies in the 1980s definitely had an impact - I don’t think it was understood at the time how much people would choose developments like the Trafford Centre and Meadowhall over the high street.
These centres offer the full package - shopping, restaurants, cinema, plus free parking. They wouldn’t get planning permission now.
It’s hard for towns and cities to compete but slowly investment is happening and new developments are coming through and a big advantage we have is public transport - we are accessible to those without a car.
Q. Has Doncaster’s Frenchgate Centre affected the town centre in a positive or a negative way?
A. Any large scale development will impact on the immediate area. There will be a shift in the heart of the town. It’s the job of the planners to ensure it’s managed correctly and ensure positives outweigh negatives. Frenchgate has been in Doncaster for years – many people relate to it. We offer hundreds of jobs and a facility that is pretty much open 365 days of the year.
Q. You won an award back in 2010 - tell us about it…
A. I won Centre Manager of the Year and a Purple Apple, a marketing award for our industry. Both were a real boost to my confidence. They reassured me I should keep following my instincts for ideas and decision-making and that I had ability. Sometimes you can under sell yourself.
Q. You started out as a marketing assistant in 1996 - and now you’re looking after your third centre. Was there a pivotal moment when you knew your career was taking off?
A. Probably the awards. I moved to my first centre manager role in Leeds in 2007 and in 2010 I started to see real results.
I realised that I had the potential to make a difference to my career. The more you learn and the more experience you have, the more your confidence improves. I now make decisions about things I would have struggled with in the past. I have also had some great people around me.
When I worked in Leeds my direct report was a lady who totally inspired me. She helped me to believe in myself and talked me up to whoever was around. When I think about the kind of manager I want to be, she influences me a lot.
Q. Is there a high proportion of women in senior retail management roles? Is it natural fit?
A. I still get frustrated at industry events where there can be a male bias, but there are plenty of high profile women to balance it out. They inspire me and make me want to progress. Heading up large teams and creating a positive culture is something women excel at; we have empathy and can be more approachable.
Q. Has anyone made the mistake of stereotyping you because of the way you look?
A. That’s a hard one. Possibly. People often assume I’m not the centre manager. Maybe they expect me to be a male, or maybe someone older, I really don’t know. I do know I’m 41, that I try to look my best and that people’s first impressions are only that, a first impression. It’s more important to me that they have a positive view once they have a longer relationship with me.
Q. You have admitted to having a nose job. It’s something few women would be brave enough to own up to. Want to tell us about it?
A. Of course. I hated my nose and it affected my confidence, so I changed it.
Most of us are vain to some degree and it altered my confidence.
I let a very good surgeon make it look better. After a week of slight discomfort, I felt 100 times better.
I have no intention of stopping with the nose job. I’m happy to carry on tweaking, within reason, go to the gym, run, generally take care of myself and want to carry on trying to look as good as I can for my age.