After the economic recession of the early nineties, Margaret Welch decided to close the doors on her clothing business in South East London at the age of forty-eight. However, it wasn’t long before she landed a job in the Childrenswear department of the iconic London store Selfridges. Twenty-five years on, Margaret, now 73, is happier than ever in her life and work, and says that she hasn’t looked back since.
Margaret has taken on various roles throughout her career – including working for a builders merchant – but she feels that retail has always been “in her blood”, which is what led her to set up two Childrenswear boutiques and a Menswear shop in South East London, during the late 1970s. During the 1990 recession however, trading at her stores suffered and her businesses were unable to financially recover from the impact, forcing Margaret to make a difficult decision…
She explains, “After the big recession, my businesses were struggling so eventually I decided enough was enough and closed them down – but of course I still needed to work. I was 48 at the time and I applied for a Sales Associate role with Selfridges. My daughter went along with me to the interview for moral support and they had a vacancy in the Childrenswear department – so that was that!”
“Over the years, I’ve seen customers’ children grow up - and sometimes they even come back with their children”
The mum of two and grandmother of four quickly settled into life as a full-time Sales Associate, and says that even now, almost three decades later, she still finds joy in her work:
“I enjoy everything that I do at work. I’m never really off sick – only if I can’t get out of bed. Of course, it’s important to earn money, but if you come to work and you’re happy, it makes such a big difference. I also think if you enjoy your job, then you’ll do your best work.”
“My typical day at work is what I call “playtime.” I’m one of the first in on the shop floor so I put stock out, put the float in the till and do a little bit of merchandising, ready for 9.30am when the store opens.
“The rest of my day is spent greeting customers, who I treat as friends. I love meeting people – the array of customers that come through is amazing. We have a lot of regular customers and if you’ve looked after them, then they often look for you to serve them again, which is lovely. Over the years, I’ve seen customers’ children grow up – and sometimes they even come back with their children.”
“My hobby is enjoying life”
Since joining Selfridges, Margaret has embraced her role as a Sales Associate and the work-life balance that it’s given her.
“When I owned my businesses, I couldn’t go home when the stores closed at 5pm because I had to go out and buy stock. But now, if I finish at 5pm, I finish at 5pm and I can actually go home. My hobby is enjoying life! I’ve got a lot of friends and we get together with our kids and our grandkids. I spend a lot of time with my family and we go on holiday together. We’ve actually just got back from a family holiday to the South of France.”
Reflecting on her career so far, she says, “When I started, I could have decided to climb the ladder but I’d done that already in my career. I was happy doing what I do best – merchandising and greeting customers – and I still am. I come to work happy, I enjoy my job and I go home happy. That’s what I feel that this gives me.”
“Age isn’t relevant, we just work around each other and try and help each other”
Margaret has always been a sociable character, but her job has given her a new set of friends who she spends time with outside of work. She says that age is never a focal point within her diverse team of staff, and they keep in touch via a WhatsApp group, which helps to strengthen their bond both on and off the shop floor.
She explains, “We all spend so much time laughing and sometimes I say, ‘we shouldn’t be laughing too much – we don’t get paid to laugh!’ But that’s the humour of the day and fun and laughter keeps you young! In our team, we’ve got some people in their sixties, a few in their fifties and some younger members of staff. No one has ever made me aware of my age at work – an actual fact, they call me Peter Pan-ess! Age isn’t relevant, we just work around each other and try and help each other. If we all finish at the same time, we’ll all meet up and go and have something to eat or go for a drink across the road.
“We also try to make new members of staff as welcome as possible. Someone new started whilst I was away on holiday and as we’ve got a team WhatsApp group on our phones, so I was able to welcome her through that and tell her that I was looking forward to meeting her when I was back at work. That sort of thing helps to make people feel wanted at work and takes away that feeling that there’s something to prove. If someone can get on with their work and work as a part of a team, then I think that that’s all you can really ask.”
“I don’t have any plans to retire at the moment. I considered retiring last year but I’m just not ready to leave work yet”
Until last year, Margaret worked on a full-time basis, but decided to drop down to part-time hours after having knee-replacement surgery, ignoring suggestions from family that she stop work altogether.
She says, “I don’t have any plans to retire at the moment. I considered retiring last year but I’m just not ready to leave work yet. I can still work but being 73, my husband suggested I pack up. But I told him that I didn’t want to because I love my job, I’ve got a lovely team and we’re all friends – so I’m still there and I’m enjoying every moment!!”