David Parkin on a star turn

THE last event I organised and hosted before the pandemic was two years ago just weeks before the country went into lockdown.

No one had at that point quite grasped what we were facing and I remember when one of the panellists turned up and wanted to bump elbows rather than shake hands it was so alien to me it was like greeting somebody from Mars.

How times change.

That event’s subject was pretty prescient, it was titled ‘The Future of Work’.

The panellists predicted that several years in the future we all would be communicating via messaging and video calls and working from home might even become the norm, rather than the exception.

Who would have guessed at the time that it would take weeks for these dramatic changes to our working lives to kick in rather than several years?

The event was for financial recruitment business Woodrow Mercer Finance who have since rebranded to Headstar.

We repeated the event in an online format last year using Leeds entrepreneur Sean Gilligan’s Event Anywhere platform.

Bringing the panel back together a year later to discuss how working environments and lives had changed was fascinating.

So when it came to a subject for Headstar’s first live event for two years it was clear we needed to focus on another area where things have changed a great deal – retail.

Two years ago most shops shut and many of us started to get on first name terms with the delivery drivers who brought shopping to our doorsteps and knocked on our doors with Amazon parcels.

Indeed, there were predictions back then that Amazon would take over the world.

It hasn’t happened but the world of retail has faced a crisis and while most of us missed the physical act of going shopping during lockdown, I don’t think anyone would say that the way they shop today is exactly the same as it was before the pandemic.

So it was fascinating to bring together a panel of retail experts at Leeds Arena’s Black & White Executive Lounge to discuss how their businesses have changed and what they see happening in the future.

Mark Saunders, the chief executive of baby brand Mamas & Papas; Majid Khan, chief financial officer of outdoor clothing retailer Regatta; Ally Dowsing-Reynolds, CEO of lighting and interiors business Dowsing & Reynolds and Rob Shaw, CEO of integrated marketing agency CreativeRace were engaging, honest and fascinating.

When I’d spoken to the panellists individually before the event I asked them if there were any subjects for questions that I should avoid and all of them told me that there weren’t.

Music to my ears.

And they brought humour and frankness to the panel discussion – quite willing to be open about the challenges they have faced in business and the opportunities they hope to take advantage of in the future.

Ally Dowsing-Reynolds used to work in digital marketing for Brass but left to join her husband’s fledgling Leeds-based lighting company and is now the CEO.

The company sells most of its products online but opened a showroom in the Victoria Quarter in Leeds.

Ally revealed that they had recently taken the decision to shut the shop because of rising costs and to focus on refining the online retail experience they provide to their customers.

She said that having the shop had been hugely beneficial as they were growing the brand and they may consider a physical retail presence in the future but that is more likely to be in London – where budgets are bigger and consumers tend to be more adventurous.

She said the increasing cost of both rates and energy were the main factors in the decision to close the Victoria Quarter shop.

Majid Khan has got plenty of experience in the retail sector having had senior finance roles with both Morrisons and Burberry.

He said Regatta, which also owns the Craghoppers outdoor clothing brand, is owned by a family based in the North West of England and has benefited from not having stores focused on city centres but away from high streets and in rural locations such as the Lake District and Cornwall.

Majid put the rising costs that businesses like his face in perspective when he said that the cost of bringing in a container of goods has risen from $2,000 to $12,000 in the last few years.

Always keen to raise the bar in a discussion I said I was interested in the collaboration that Regatta has with Boris Johnson’s favourite children’s character, Peppa Pig.

Majid said that the partnership had been very successful – and probably a lifesaver for parents trying to persuade errant toddlers to don wellies and coats.

It prompted a question from a member of the audience about the role of “influencers” in retail and Regatta works with TV presenter Rochelle Humes while Mark Saunders said Mamas & Papas has a relationship with Millie Mackintosh.

For those that don’t know her, she made her name on reality TV show Made in Chelsea.


Mark’s background is in turning around retailers facing challenges and he said that Huddersfield-based Mamas & Papas has had to become more innovative to embrace the changing retail landscape.

And while he said that customers like to physically see and feel certain products like prams and pushchairs, staff at the retailer were now using head mounted Go-Pro cameras to enable them to get a better idea of the products when viewing them online.

Rob Shaw of CreativeRace, added: “When we had our first child my wife wanted a particular type of pram which we then discovered didn’t fit in our car…so we got a new car!”

Leeds-based CreativeRace works with some of the biggest retailers out there like Asda and Greggs alongside a whole host of well known international brands.

I said that whatever Rob and his colleagues did, they could probably never surpass the achievement of relaunching “The Honey Monster” back to our breakfast tables.

With plenty of great questions from the audience, it was a discussion that could have gone on much longer than the hour we had.

What was fantastic to see was the audience all staying on to chat to the panellists, the Headstar team and each other over food and drinks.

For many it was their first proper business event they had attended in more than two years and we shouldn’t over-estimate that many people are still coming to terms with this strange return to what used to be “normality” after an extraordinary period of not going out which none of us wants to experience again.

The Headstar event featured a presentation from Jon Oliver, finance director with hero, a wellbeing business which uses intuitive technology to help organisations to support employee wellbeing.

It is something the forward thinking directors of Headstar use in their business and it strikes me that looking after the mental and physical health of employees is a growing priority for many companies.

It is always a pleasure working with James Roach and Neil Muffitt and their colleagues at Headstar as I know they will create the kind of event and invite the kind of guests that ensure a fun and engaging evening.

Throw in a talented and articulate panel and it made my job easy.

This was probably the sixth event I’ve worked on with Headstar and I told the audience that perhaps the best compliment I can pay them is that they are nothing like recruiters.


MY former colleague at the Yorkshire Post, Tom Richmond, died suddenly last week at the age of just 52.

Tom was in charge of the opinion pages of the newspaper and he wrote a weekly column in the Saturday edition, interviewed key figures as well as writing about horse racing.

There have been many worthy tributes to Tom penned by people who worked with Tom longer and knew him better than I did.

He was an extremely talented writer and exceptionally hard working and when it came to his journalism the tributes were right when they included descriptions of him as “formidable” and “tenacious”.

In the great tradition of journalism he was also quirky and irascible and he was known by colleagues as “Richmondo”.

I thought “The Great Richmondo” was more appropriate as I could picture him in top hat and cape sallying forth to right wrongs and challenge the powers that be.

His weekly column covered many subjects but tended to focus on the key issues of politics and regional government.

One thing he regularly mentioned was his inconsistent wheelie bin collections by Leeds City Council.

I often wondered if city council chief executive Tom Riordan had considered going and sorting Tom’s bins out himself to save the headaches caused by a salvo in print from The Great Richmondo.

I last saw Tom a couple of weeks ago at a leaving do at the Midnight Bell pub for his Yorkshire Post colleagues, cartoonist Graeme Bandeira and features editor Chris Bond.

He, like me, had turned up to pay tribute to these two stalwarts of Yorkshire’s National Newspaper – and have a few beers with wonderful people.

There was no small talk in a conversation with Tom and I was left in no uncertain terms about his views on several subjects in the course of our chat.

When he left the pub to go back to work at the office, he did so by telling Graeme – who was several pints to the good by that point – that he would be likely to be in a “sorry state” in the morning.

Having then accompanied Bandy and photographers Simon Hulme and Jonathan Gawthorpe to Manahatta and Mojo on Merrion Street until the early hours I can confirm that Tom’s prediction was absolutely correct.

Have a great weekend.

1 thought on “David Parkin on a star turn”

  1. Always enjoy your blogs David. You’re right that I did have a red flag on Tom’s bin as well as any roadworks on his journey into work on the A65! We were obviously on the receiving end at times of Tom’s sharp insight which wasn’t always the best thing to get me relaxed for a Saturday morning. But we grew to respect each other over the years and often spoke or met for a coffee, even if I couldn’t change his views on some things, though who could?! It’s clear what a central role he played at the YP from the many tributes that have poured in, especially from the horse racing community. Such a sad loss for Yorkshire.

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