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‘I’m no ordinary gardener’: M&S boss swaps West End for the east because of Covid

PUBLISHED: 13:57 01 October 2020 | UPDATED: 13:57 01 October 2020

M&S manager Paul Rich from Norfolk swaps West End for East, leaving retail to set up Holt Gardening Services.  Pictures: BRITTANY WOODMAN

M&S manager Paul Rich from Norfolk swaps West End for East, leaving retail to set up Holt Gardening Services. Pictures: BRITTANY WOODMAN

(C) Archant 2020

A Norfolk manager who landed his dream job at the UK’s biggest M&S has started a gardening firm after redundancy.

Paul Rich receiving Store Manager of the Month for the East Anglia Region award at M&S last year. Pic: Paul RichPaul Rich receiving Store Manager of the Month for the East Anglia Region award at M&S last year. Pic: Paul Rich

Paul Rich, 51, who lives in King’s Lynn, has ditched the corporate suits for overalls after going self-employed after running a team of 60. Despite working in retail for more than 35 years and climbing the corporate ladder all the way to boss menswear at M&S in Marble Arch, he decided to give it all up because of Covid, accepting voluntary redundancy.

But although the job couldn’t be more different, he’s applying all the same principles he’s learned about customer service since cutting his teeth as a shop assistant after leaving college in outfitters Hatters in Norwich. And what is the biggest gamble of his career is paying off, having secured some big contracts.

MORE: H&M to close 250 stores world-wide

Paul Rich promoting M&S menswear. Pic: Paul Rich/EDP libraryPaul Rich promoting M&S menswear. Pic: Paul Rich/EDP library

“In M&S in Marble Arch, 70pc of customers were visitors so once the theatres and the big hotels closed because of coronavirus, it decimated business.

“I went to run a Simply Food in Chelsea for a while and then when they put me on furlough, I thought, like everyone, it was only going to be for a couple of weeks.”

But as Covid worsened, six months on, M&S offered him voluntary redundancy amid axing 7,000 jobs.

M&S manager Paul Rich from Norfolk swaps West End for East, leaving retail to set up Holt Gardening Services. Pictures: BRITTANY WOODMANM&S manager Paul Rich from Norfolk swaps West End for East, leaving retail to set up Holt Gardening Services. Pictures: BRITTANY WOODMAN

“Did it come at the right time? I’m 51, and my M&S pension wasn’t enough to retire on, and I’ve worked in retail all my working life, so it was a big step. A lot of people are facing this, it was a tough decision and to say goodbye to all the financial benefits. It was a big leap.”

Mr Rich had managed M&S stores across the region, in King’s Lynn and Lowestoft as well as Peterborough before he got a shot in the capital.“I miss the customers and the support of a management team but retail has been hit so hard. But actually I have lovely customers and Covid is causing us to go back to basics.

“My dad was head of Holt Hall, situated in 75 acres, so I grew up on a ride-on mower, the head gardener was always showing me how to trim hedges and really inspired me. I’ve always done my garden at home and my mum’s so I set up Holt Gardening Services and in fact I can apply all the same customer service I’ve learned in retail. It’s about turning up on time, making sure you email the before and after pics of what you’ve done, offering a good service.

“I’m certainly no ordinary gardener.”

M&S manager Paul Rich from Norfolk swaps West End for East, leaving retail to set up Holt Gardening Services. Pictures: BRITTANY WOODMANM&S manager Paul Rich from Norfolk swaps West End for East, leaving retail to set up Holt Gardening Services. Pictures: BRITTANY WOODMAN

After completing a bike ride from London to Paris with two other M&S store managers; Tony Lyon and Barry Harker, in which they raised £15,000 for the Royal British Legion on behalf of the store. Pic: Paul RichAfter completing a bike ride from London to Paris with two other M&S store managers; Tony Lyon and Barry Harker, in which they raised £15,000 for the Royal British Legion on behalf of the store. Pic: Paul Rich

Oliver Cheshire, an international male model and the face of M&S' Autograph range. Paul and Oliver became friends after meeting on a store sponsored bike ride. PIc: Paul RichOliver Cheshire, an international male model and the face of M&S' Autograph range. Paul and Oliver became friends after meeting on a store sponsored bike ride. PIc: Paul Rich

Paul Rich started out in the 'rag trade' in Norwich supplying football shirts among other menswear items for Findafashion. Pic: ArchantPaul Rich started out in the 'rag trade' in Norwich supplying football shirts among other menswear items for Findafashion. Pic: Archant


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