In a downturn, when things are tough, people want the escape of watching entertaining TV, but they also want to hear feelgood stories of people becoming successful. Popular reality shows such as The Apprentice, X-Factor, Next Top Model and Hell's Kitchen let ambitious contenders battle it out for the prize of a top position in their profession. These shows provide a launch-pad for the contestants while providing audiences with entertainment along the way.
Now a new type of reality TV programme showing the reality of retail is emerging. Reality TV shows are entertaining and compelling, but they also provide the audience with the practical resources, information and insight for becoming successful themselves. These programmes - Feargal Quinn's Retail Therapy, Mary Portas' Queen of Shops, Theo Paphitis' Adventure Capitalists, Inside John Lewis and Jo Malone's High Street Dreams – don't just make for great viewing, they are a step-by-step guide to how to be successful in the retail business. The mentors on these programmes are all successful entrepreneurs who now, during an economic crisis, are sharing the tricks of their trades and secrets of success. It is an opportunity for everyone at home watching to be inspired and to soak up what these people are saying.
These programmes also provide a platform for retail industries to communicate to mass audiences what they are all about. I have recently begun filming for a new fashion-focused reality TV programme for TV3 called Style Wars, on which I am a judge. I have found that it is not only important to judge but to guide and mentor the contestants – something I am able to do because of my experience in the fashion industry and current position as chairman of Aurora Fashions Ireland. Style Wars is also going to showcase, for the first time, the depth and importance of the fashion industry in Ireland. The weekly fashion tasks stem from all elements of the industry such as styling, designing, visual merchandising, PR and photography, providing the audience with a cross-section view of the broad spectrum of careers in the Irish fashion industry.
Informative TV programmes can help provide the know-how to be successful, but we all need some guidance to get kick-started on a path to success. One of Ireland's greatest entrepreneurs and inventors, Thomas Caffrey of Caffrey Chocolates, Ireland's very own Mr Wonka, died last week at age 92. On RTE Radio's Liveline, Caffrey's son Neville spoke to Joe Duffy about how the company had remained successful throughout the decades , providing generations of employment in the family business since 1930 about making famous Caffrey products such as snowballs and Macaroon bars. Neville's parting words of advice to anyone who has found themselves out of work, or maybe at a loss with a redundancy package they could potentially invest, were to follow their dreams, find something they are passionate about, and turn it into a profitable business.
The message from Neville Caffrey and from the entrepreneur mentors in the programmes is the same – invest in yourself to become successful. As the government talks about building a 'smart economy' it should be taking its own advice and investing in people, and not just in bailing out banks. The government would do well to put some fresh blood on the enterprise boards and partake in the task forces.
The Department of the Taoiseach has proclaimed that a new 'smart economy' will focus on building new ideas and turning Ireland into 'The Innovation Island.' It says, "Knowledge is the key source of competitive advantage in today's economies", and "Productivity is about making the most of available resources, combining them in new ways and creating new sources of value." This is all well and good but it will be achieved only by empowering people to use resources and knowledge available to them, to go forward and get on the industry ladder.
The innovation task force the government is putting together claims it will deliver a great change – it will "design a new economy of the future for Ireland, and this plan will bring us investment and jobs in the future". We can only hope these promises will be put into action to bridge the gaps that have opened up in our economic culture, where money is not being invested in people, but in bailing out floundering institutions. The innovation task force should do exactly what it says on the tin and be innovative in creating new kinds of economic productivity, such as linking up successful entrepreneurs with budding businesspeople to give them advice and direction and guide them into the retail market.
Enterprise Ireland and Fás will only go so far in nurturing and guiding our workforces. Innovative enterprises such as Norma Smurfit's 'First Step', which she established in 1991 to give people a chance to get started in business, are a prime example of how funds should be used for the future economic sustainability of Ireland.
The feelgood success stories we love to watch on reality TV should be a daily occurrence in real life. Feargal Quinn's Retail Therapy shows Quinn extending a helping hand to retailers from all ends of the industry – from a florist to a boutique to a department store. These programmes are opening doors for some of the best business minds out there. They are bringing together families and friends who have a passionate idea, who have done the groundwork on developing a product and who now need a push in the right direction. The government could learn a lot from these shows.