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SARAH VINE fears poor business decisions will finally put an end to Mothercare

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And so Mothercare adds its name to the growing list of once-great British high street brands brought to their knees in recent years. 

The iconic brand that has guided generations of British parents throughout the early years of their children’s lives.

That familiar logo, the big letter ‘M’ enveloping the figure of a small person in a protective embrace, is synonymous with those first nursery purchases, the agonising over which pushchair to buy, the choice of cot, highchair, steriliser, and all those babygros and tiny vests.

For countless women such as myself it was a reliable port in the storm of early motherhood, a place to find refuge alongside others with bags under their eyes and encrusted pear puree down the fronts of their coats, where whatever new equipment a tiny human needed could be reliably provided.

As for fathers, being dragged around Mothercare in a state of bemusement (possibly also rising panic) was a rite of passage for every new dad-to-be, a first glimpse of the weird and wonderful world ahead. 

How many will remember looking on in disbelief at the seemingly infinite array of infant-related equipment (how can something so small need so much stuff?), trying not to slip into a coma during endless discussions about breast-pumps – and marvelling, half in horror, half in surreptitious admiration, at the sheer size of the nursing bras.

Mothercare was struggling long before any of these things were a real problem. As long ago as 2003 I remember reading that money at Mothercare was so tight bosses had to borrow cash from the tills to pay the wage bill

No doubt they will blame all this on a combination of ‘challenging market conditions’, competition from Amazon and the like and, inevitably, Brexit. A store is pictured above in Middlesbrough in early 1983

No doubt they will blame all this on a combination of ‘challenging market conditions’, competition from Amazon and the like and, inevitably, Brexit. A store is pictured above in Middlesbrough in early 1983

The heavily pregnant felt safe there, lured perhaps by the urban myth that if your waters broke in Mothercare, there would be a shower of Mothercare gifts for the child. (It’s not the group’s official policy a company spokeswoman told me, it’s up to individual stores and usually ‘they’re very nice’.)

Mothercare was where grandma went to get that all-important christening present, where childless friends and godparents sought advice on how best to welcome the new arrival.

Tony Blair lookalike Steve Webber is pictured walking out of a store. Mothercare was where grandma went to get that all-important christening present, where childless friends and godparents sought advice on how best to welcome the new arrival

For so many of us, it is as much a part of those early memories as the curled-edge finger-paintings on the side of the fridge, or the height notches in the kitchen doorway. 

And even though it was not as chic or slick as other shops, it has a place in all our hearts. All the more tragic, then, that the management have succeeded in destroying it to such an extent. 

Because you really have to be very incompetent to squander quite so much goodwill in quite such a comprehensive way.

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Type Mothercare and Mumsnet [the online forum for mums] into Google today, and the first thing that pops up is the post ‘Mothercare are awful’, followed by ‘Has anybody had a GOOD experience with Mothercare?’ and ‘Why is Mothercare so expensive and grotty?’. 

No doubt they will blame all this on a combination of ‘challenging market conditions’, competition from Amazon and the like and, inevitably, Brexit. But the truth is, Mothercare was struggling long before any of these things were a real problem.

As long ago as 2003 I remember reading that money at Mothercare was so tight bosses had to borrow cash from the tills to pay the wage bill. 

There were stories, too, of managers ferrying stock from store to store in their own cars.

As for fathers, being dragged around Mothercare in a state of bemusement (possibly also rising panic) was a rite of passage for every new dad-to-be, a first glimpse of the weird and wonderful world ahead

Nevertheless, the Noughties saw a brief resurgence in Mothercare’s fortunes. 

They had the bright idea of acquiring Early Learning Centre, another Mecca for new mums, introducing educational toys into the mix and improving the shopping experience for families. 

The focus shifted to customer service and product expertise, even going so far as to launch their own version of Mumsnet, Gurgle, in a foresighted attempt to tap into the growing purchasing power of social media.

If they had carried on along that trajectory they might well not be in the position they are today. But they didn’t. 

Instead they expanded wildly overseas and embarked on a programme of UK city centre closures (I can remember our then local store in Camberley going, not long before the local BHS closed down too) and moved to large, faceless out-of-town centres.

That cosy, reassuring feel, that much-needed intimacy, crucially that sense of being special, went – and the whole place became just like any other superstore.

Mothercare adds its name to the growing list of once-great British high street brands brought to their knees in recent years. The iconic brand that has guided generations of British parents throughout the early years of their children’s lives

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