What is “Doing A Ratner”?


When Gerald Ratner was asked to speak at the Institute of Directors Dinner in 1991, the Ratner Jewellery Stores were booming on every High Street.

Gerald Ratner took over the famous stores when they had 130 stores and had made a £350k loss. He rapidly accelerated the growth to 2500 at its height. Widely regarded as selling “Tacky and Cheap” Jewellery and Household items, it was nonetheless a huge success as a business.

Doing a Ratner
Ratner’s were famous for their bright colours and focus on low priced goods

Famous for bright and garish signage Gerald Ratner was seen as one of the top Directors in the UK Economy and was invited to speak at the prestigious Institute of Directors Dinner in April 1991.

There were warning signs ahead of the Dinner, as Gerald practiced the interview with his wife Moira Ratner. In an interview with the Sunday Times magazine, Gerald Ratner confirmed that he’d rebuffed his wife’s advice about his after-dinner speech to business leaders at the Royal Albert Hall.

“I absolutely advised Gerald against making the speech, but he knew what he wanted. He had been working on it for months and was seriously prepared. He even got an MP to help him.”

Moira Ratner

On that now infamous night in April, 1991, Ratner’s speech at the IOD began normal enough. Ratner discussed values of quality, choice and even prosperity. It was about 3 minutes in that it started going wrong for the Ratner empire.

Doing a Ratner
Gerald Ratner in the 1990’s

“Ratners doesn’t represent prosperity — and come to think of it, it has very little to do with quality as well, We do cut-glass sherry decanters complete with six glasses on a silver-plated tray that your butler can serve you drinks on, all for £4.95. People say, ‘How can you sell this for such a low price?’ I say, because it’s total crap.”

Gerald Ratner

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“We even sell a pair of [gold] earrings for under £1, Some people say, ‘That’s cheaper than a prawn sandwich!’…I have to say, the sandwich will probably last longer than the earrings.”

The next morning, Ratner picked up the papers to the news: “RATNER CALLS HIS OWN PRODUCTS ‘CRAP.’” The Sunday Times even called him “Gerald Crapner” — a nickname that caught on with disgruntled ex-customers.

At first Ratner tried to use the PR for his own good use by featuring special promotions and put a put of “fun” into his comments. Sadly no-one was buying it, or any of their products anymore. Shares in Ratner’s collapsed, he lost 2,500 shops and after being booted from his own company Gerald admitted to being clinically depressed.

In total £500m was wiped from the value of the Ratner Group, which at that time included H. Samuel, Ernest Jones and Leslie Davis as well as Ratners.

Now “Doing a Ratner” is British slang for a CEO or Company who says something stupid in public that undermines their own product or service.

Dame Helen Mirren doing a ratner
Dame Helen Mirren famously was ended up Doing a Ratner when she talked negatively of L’Oreal

Dame Helen Mirren ended up repeating a similar issue by “Doing A Ratner” at a L’Oreal Conference in Paris in 1997.

“I’m an eternal optimist – I know that when I put my moisturiser on it probably does f— all, but it just makes me feel better. I’ve always said to L’Oreal as well that I will only do what makes me feel better.”

Dame Helen Mirren

Back to Gerald Ratner, after losing everything I met Gerald at the Federation of Small Businesses Annual Conference in Manchester 2014. He spoke passionately about his mistakes but also that he had made the unlikeliest of all comebacks. He had took a £155k loan on his house, using the money to build up a health club business before selling it for a just short of £4m. The profits were then used to retart an online Jewellery Company that he runs to this day.

Gerald Ratner

“I tell people that having a setback, whether it’s going bankrupt, being divorced or ill, doesn’t mean it is the end of you”.

Gerald Ratner

Finally, what happened to The Ratners Group itself? Well it rebranded itself to the Signet group in 1993; today, it is the largest diamond retailer in the world.