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Monday, 27 May, 2002, 15:06 GMT 16:06 UK
Ratner hopes to sparkle again
Gerald Ratner
The "total crap" gaffe made Mr Ratner notorious
Gerald Ratner, the former retail tycoon responsible for one of the most famous gaffes in corporate history, is hoping to relaunch his career on the internet.

Mr Ratner is seeking 4m to set up Ratners-Online, a web-based retailer that will sell jewellery and branded watches.

The Ratner name was once a fixture on British High Streets, underpinning a nationwide chain of cut-price jewellers.

But Mr Ratner effectively killed the company in 1991 with a speech to the Institute of Directors, when he joked that one of his firm's products was "total crap", and boasted that some of its ear rings were "cheaper than a prawn sandwich".

The speech, instantly seized upon by the media, wiped an estimated 500m from the value of the company.

Mr Ratner left the firm the following year, and his name was expunged from the company in 1994.

Name to conjure with

Speaking to BBC Radio 4, Mr Ratner argued that his notoriety should help, not hinder, his new venture.

"People are more likely to hit on this site than on some unknown name," he said.

Combined with the low running costs of an online-only retailer, Ratners-Online perky prospects looked assured, he argued.

Nonetheless, it has taken Mr Ratner a decade to put his name on one of his businesses.

Since pulling out of the jewellery business, Mr Ratner has focused on the leisure industry, opening a gymnasium in Henley-on-Thames.

Foot in mouth disease

Mr Ratner's gaffe has become a textbook case in business schools around the UK.

The realisation that media, investors and the shopping public were acutely sensitive to image encouraged firms to focus heavily on branding, and accelerated the rise of the now-mighty corporate PR firms.

Nonetheless, a handful of senior executives have fallen into the same trap as Mr Ratner.

A year ago, Royal Bank of Scotland deputy chairman George Mathewson was hauled over the coals for saying that his 750,000 bonus was not enough to buy "bragging power in a Soho wine bar".

The marketing chief of clothes retailer Top Man caused a storm in July by branding his customers "hooligans".

And last week, Camelot boss Dianne Thompson said that, far from being in with a chance of riches, lottery ticket buyers "would be lucky to win a tenner."

See also:

19 Jul 01 | Business
12 Apr 01 | UK
11 Apr 01 | Business
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