PEOPLE should be at the heart of York’s post-pandemic revival, a high-profile entrepreneur and expert on staff motivation has told city businesses.

Julian Richer, founder of the UK’s largest hi-fi retailer Richer Sounds, kicked off York Business Conference with a plea to employers to look after their team as a key part of their recovery.

“People are not machines. If you treat them well you will see so much more out of them,” said Julian, who lives just outside York.

The retailer who has founded eight charities also wrote The Richer Way and The Ethical Capitalist, and is the force behind the Good Business Charter which promotes good business including employee well-being, diversity and inclusion, environmental responsibility and ethical sourcing.

York became the first UK city to sign up to the charter, whose members also include Aviva and the University of York.

Focusing on the conference theme of ‘rebuild for growth’, which launched York Business Week, Julian said: “I am interested in encouraging businesses to build back better as responsible businesses, ethical, good.

“You will sleep better at night if you run a good business; it’s good for society if you treat your staff well and pay your taxes, and thirdly your business will benefit.”

Julian who has advised major organisations on staff motivation, customer service and cultural change gave 60 per cent of his business to employees in 2019 through an employee ownership trust, while ensuring that a percentage of annual profits went to charity.

He told delegates: “I am a small retailer. I had my first shop when I was 19. We now have 50 stores.

"We turn over about £200m and we have been going a long time. We have survived several recessions, disasters, dramas and we have seen the onslaught of the internet.

"We have ridden that wave as well and I am really proud of that.”

He added: “What I have learnt in my 40-odd years as a retailer is it’s all about the people. You will observe completely different outputs from people depending how you treat them.

“If you treat your staff well they will have less time off sick and are less likely to leave you. The cost of recruitment and training is phenomenal. Our staff turnover, for retail, is miniscule.”

He said shrinkage - ‘a euphemism for theft,’ he said - in retail is between one and two per cent of turnover - not the case for Richer Sounds, which he attributes to staff being well treated.

“We have 12 holiday homes for staff. That’s one of the nice things we do; more than 70 per cent of our entire work force have at least one free holiday a year.”

He said another payback of being a good employer had seen Richer Sounds winning the best retailer award from the Consumers Association for six of the past 11 years.

This, he said, was ‘because our people give fantastic service, because they are well treated, otherwise they would be miserable, resentful and wouldn’t bother'.

"I can’t put a price on how much that is worth, giving great service but also customers recommending to other customers and coming back themselves.”

Julian said it was a ‘no brainer’ for businesses to sign up to the charter, which launched in February 2020 and now has more than 700 members.

He said research showed consumers wanted to spend their money with good businesses and charter status helped them identify those deserving of support.

It was a message endorsed by fellow speakers Jon Geldart, Institute of Directors, director general, and Helen Simpson, chair of the York & North Yorkshire Local Enterprise Partnership.

On the levelling up agenda, they both highlighted the importance of York and the region having ‘robust’ infrastructure to support and create jobs, while retaining and attracting talent.

Jon also spoke about the importance of changing perceptions about York and promoting it as a vibrant economy and its opportunities for young people.