Thursday Brunch: what did we learn?

Thursday Brunch: what did we learn. Find out everything you need to know about the #1 networking event in the UK – Thursday Brunch!

Thursday Brunch is jointly organised and hosted by re:find, the incredible Stuart and Tony from Masgroves, tech whizzes BVU and event experts Eventologists. We have a brand new website you can check out here.

This month’s instalment of Thursday Brunch was on returning to ‘normal’ – but what does normal look like?

Business as unusual

Even before the pandemic, some companies had found a different way. A different way of thinking. A different way of doing. A different way of being. If 2020 has taught us to ask anything, surely it is this: How do we do business as unusual?

Our three champions of business as unusual were:

Nathalie Nahai is an international speaker, author and consultant, who explores the intersection between persuasive technology, ethics and the psychology behind evolving consumer behaviours. 

Luke Kyte is Head of Culture at Reddico and firmly believes traditional business structures are dying.

Gethin Nadin is an award-winning psychologist who has been helping some of the world’s largest organisations to improve their employee experience and wellbeing for two decades. He is also Director of Wellbeing at Benefex where he leads their thought leadership in the market.

And the main takeaways from this session?

  • Value your employees, listen to them, find out what makes them perform best.
  • Clarify your values and purpose, make sure it’s clear.
  • Empathise and sympathise, ensure psychological safety.

You can watch the full session here:

Scandinavians do “it” better (it = work)

The happiest countries in the world were recently announced, and all of the Scandinavian countries are in the top ten! Again. With Finland number one. Again. We want to ask what is it “they” do to lead such happy lives – at home and at work. Because we believe Scandinavians do both, better.

Our three brilliant Scandi guests were:

Rasmus Ankersen is a bestselling author, entrepreneur, speaker on performance development and a trusted advisor to businesses and athletes around the world.

Natasha Holland is a creative, collaborative change management consultant, helping organisations deliver remarkable results with happier humans.

Alexander Stephanou is Chief Commercial Officer at Open, a Copenhagen-based employee communication agency. Open work with some of Europe’s largest companies including Arla, Carlsberg and Maersk as well as global players such as Microsoft and Du Pont.

So what were the main takeaways from this session? 

  • Work-life balance – this was reiterated by all three guests. Be efficient during work time, then enjoy time outside of work with family and friends.
  • Trust first – give people the benefit of the doubt and don’t try to control too much, you’ll be happier for it.
  • Be more democratic – challenge helps innovation, so embrace it. (Even though it can be tough!) 

You can watch the full session here:

George Floyd: one year on

The killing of George Floyd on 25th May 2020 reverberated around the world. He was arrested after allegedly buying cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 bill. Seventeen minutes after the first squad car arrived at the scene, George Floyd was unconscious and pinned beneath three police officers, showing no signs of life.

One year on, what has changed? At the time, his killing resonated far beyond Minnesota where he died and disrupted politics, business, culture and sports. It sparked debate across Europe. Sports stars still take the knee. And his dying words – “I can’t breathe” – remains a parable for America’s racial story and a rallying cry for action.

Our three guests are pioneers of diversity and inclusion:

Nichol Whiteman – Chief Executive Officer of the award-winning Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation (LADF), which tackles the most pressing problems facing Los Angeles with a mission to improve education, health care, homelessness and social justice.

Eugenio Pirri is Chief People and Culture Officer and global diversity champion at Dorchester Collection, a portfolio of the world’s foremost luxury hotels in Europe and the USA.

Catherine Garrod is the founder of Compelling Culture, following a career in media and telecoms, where she led Sky to be named the most inclusive employer in the UK.

So what were the main takeaways from this session? 

  • Focus on an inclusive culture – and ask your employees for their honest views.
  • Be proactive, not reactive, and be intentional in your actions.
  • Education, communication and celebration: the 3 pillars of inclusivity.
  • Ensure that the people making the decisions are a complete mix, so everyone brings different ideas and challenges each other.
  • Provide compelling data, so your teams know what they need to work on to improve.

You can watch the full session here:

2021 AD: How will we work After the ‘Demic?

For many, 2020 was the year when “home” became “work.” Millions joined those who have ‘WFH’d’ for years – like small business owners, freelancers and sole traders. To say some have found it tough is an understatement. It has also been tough for companies to flip how they operate, literally overnight.

Now light is at the end of the tunnel, we look to life after the pandemic:

  • What will the world look like?
  • How do we rebuild?
  • Will things ever be normal again?

We got the views of three leading thinkers:

Tom Goodwin – #1 Voice in marketing on LinkedIn globally, with over 700,000 followers and currently sits on the World Economic Forum’s Future of Workboard.

Rebecca Seal  is an award-winning food, drink, lifestyle and personal development writer.

Marco Bertozzi was until recently Vice President EMEA and Multi-market Global Sales at Spotify.

So what were the main takeaways from this session? 

  • Focus on ourselves and what’s important to us and be more optimisic.
  • Look after ourselves when working from home by eating well, working in daylight, taking regular breaks and not sitting for too long – ‘sitting is the new smoking’.
  • Go “all-in” and embrace what’s happened and look at the benefits to carry on post-pandemic.
  • Trust your teams.

You can watch the full session here:

Mental health strategies for a crazy world.

The statistics on mental health are widely known. What is less well known are the strategies to adopt to respond to a growing workplace challenge. And the scale of the challenge becomes even greater as more of us struggle with the pandemic.

  • Deloitte say poor mental health in the workplace is equivalent to almost 2% of UK GDP (in 2016)
  • The cost ranges from £497 to £2,564 per employee depending on the industry and sector
  • The return on investment of workplace mental health interventions is overwhelmingly positive, with an average ROI of 4:1

We look for answers with three of the leading thinkers on wellbeing: David Beeney from Breaking the Silence; ex-professional footballer, Drewe Broughton; and founder of The Performance Club, Stacy Thomson. What did we learn?

  • Kindness and wellbeing have a significant impact on culture and the engagement of colleagues.
  • Our brain is our most powerful tool, yet we are not taught how we can manage it to get the best out of it
  • The fear of failure and constantly striving for perfection are massive contributors to poor mental health.

You can watch the whole session here:

The joy or serotonin: why happiness matters.

Human happiness has a positive effect on productivity, organisational success, and a whole host of other things too. Here are some ‘stats’ to back that up.

  • Companies with happy employees outperform the competition by 20%.
  • Employees who report being happy at work take X10 fewer sick days.
  • And happy salespeople produce 37% more sales.

Most leaders want happier workplaces – but aren’t sure where to begin or how to achieve it. Hear from three guests who will share practical tips and advice to make your workplace more than just colourful walls and a few free snacks in the fridge!

You can see what our three great guests –  neuroscientist, Amy Brann; author of “Freedom to be Happy: The Business Case for Happiness” Matt Phelan; and David Bellamy, founder and CEO of Happiness Lab – had to say, watch the recording here:

Thursday Brunch 2020

We ran three virtual Thursday Brunch events in 2020. The final Thursday Brunch of the year was a controversial subject that had a mixed response – How to thrive without HR:

Can companies not only survive but thrive without a formal Human Resources function?

Is it possible?
Is it legal?
Is it commercially savvy?

What a great event it was, some really thought-provoking and inspiring discussion with our 3 guests, PTHR’s Perry Timms, Brave Goose co-founder and radical truth-teller C-J Green and Rich Sheridan, CEO and Chief Storyteller at Menlo Innovations.

If you missed it, here is the full show:

If you would like to chat with the guys at Masgroves and BVU about hosting an event like this for your business, they’d love to hear from you. Just give them a call on 012 1369 9631.

Thursday Brunch 2019

We ran three live events in 2019, the final event in November was the best, with over 60 attendees, a line-up of fantastic speakers and our hosts – Stuart and Tony from Masgroves – really knocked it out of the park!

For this Thursday Brunch, we gathered together to discuss ‘What leaders want, an alternative look at employee engagement’.

In the absence of a video recording to share, here is a roundup of what we learnt:

Don’t get too intellectual about it!

We can get too intellectual about engagement at times – particularly when it comes to company purpose.

You cannot just create purpose and expect people to care about it. It’s about helping people understand what’s important to them and then find some alignment to that.

If you work on a production line and do the same process 20 times a day, do you care about purpose or do you just want to get your job done?

Some people want to come into work, work hard and go home and there’s nothing wrong with that! Shoving engagement down someone’s throat isn’t going to make them engaged.

Keep it simple

The employer/employee deal has skewed. A lot of it is being driven by what we see on LinkedIn that other people are doing, rather than what the business and employees need and want.

Not asking what people want is a huge mistake. Doing initiatives that you think people will like rather than what they actually want is a risk. By doing things people haven’t asked for, it can disengage on a number of levels.

Every business is individual – dogs at work and beer fridges are great, but that doesn’t mean that is what your people want. Keep an eye on the basics and go with your gut on what will work.

For example – your IT hardware is hugely out of date. Are people more likely to leave your business because you don’t have a beer fridge, or because you haven’t invested in a decent enough laptop and operating system for them to do their job effectively?

Create psychological safety

Create an environment where people feel comfortable saying things that are unpopular and challenge the status quo. Creating an open environment where people can say what they mean is key, as is creating space and time to have those conversations. Tell stories about people challenging things within the business – put them on a pedestal. We need diversity of thought – the conversation may not lead anywhere, but let’s celebrate the fact the conversation was had.

To learn about all our upcoming events for 2021, you can sign up here.

And don’t forget to check out our new website here.

Thursday Brunch is jointly organised and hosted by re:find Interim & Executive Search, BVU and Masgroves.  

If you would like to chat with the guys at Masgroves and BVU about hosting an event like this for your business, they’d love to hear from you. Just give them a call on 012 1369 9631.

Kingfisher’s struggles shows the pitfalls of nailing international retail

Nailing international retail

International success is one of retail’s holy grails but despite notable wins, Kingfisher’s results today show it is one of the most elusive of prizes. 

As one senior retailer with extensive overseas experience told me, things are always going wrong in at least one important market. He questions whether it is actually possible to be successful on a truly global basis. 

There is plenty of evidence to support that view. It’s not just Kingfisher that has beat a retreat from markets once seen as great opportunities like Russia and China. Tesco has too. And Walmart, which hopes to offload Asda to Sainsbury’s, is another case in point. 

Global ambition is frequently spurred by the idea that there is today an ‘international consumer’ who wants the same whether they live in Swansea or Shanghai. The success of Asos, which describes itself as “a global fashion destination for 20-somethings”, is typically cited as proving that point. 

While such a generation may be nascent, the particularities of place and people still matter hugely, as the travails of B&Q’s owner show. The mixed success so far of the ‘One Kingfisher’ strategy, including greater product in common across its markets, illustrates that starkly. 

Uniting consumers 

Kingfisher can certainly claim some advances from the strategy and it can point, as it did in its results statement, to the fact that “sales of our unified and unique ranges continue to outperform non-unified ranges”. 

However, its overall performance was poor and the architect of the strategy, chief executive Véronique Laury, is to depart when a successor is found. 

As Whitman Howard analyst Tony Shiret noted: “The news that Laury will be leaving the group… effectively means the company is calling time on her ambitious One Kingfisher transformation plan.” 

Whether you put Kingfisher’s difficulties down to unaddressed differences in consumer tastes in various countries, generally tough conditions or the disruptive influence of the gilets jaunes protests in the important French market, the point is that international success is extremely difficult to achieve. 

Gone are the days when giants could simply replicate abroad the model that brought success at home. More than product, what perhaps does unite consumers around the world is shared aspiration and behaviour. 

Everybody wants a better life. Increasingly everybody is conducting more of their lives through smartphones. That’s evident from China to Africa, where pan-African etailer Jumia has grown to the extent that it is planning a Wall Street IPO that could value it at $1bn. 

And while Walmart is scaling back its interest in the UK, it is upping the ante in India, where its $16bn acquisition of Flipkart shows that it is how shoppers buy as much as what they purchase that is seen as most likely to bring future success. 

Bold moves 

That same combination of aspiration, combined with the desire for convenience, speed and value is what has driven the rise of one of the big contemporary international retail success stories – Amazon. 

But the ability to key into unifying behavioural patterns isn’t restricted to the new online giants. Ikea, which itself has had its ups and downs, has perhaps been more forward-looking than its rival Kingfisher. 

The Swedish furniture titan is boldly nailing its colours to the mast of urbanisation, which is occurring across the world, and developing new formats in response. Similarly, Ikea initiatives such as renting furniture are driven in reflection of changes in how people live rather than just product. 

Whether Ikea’s bets pay off remains to be seen, but it looks as if its ideas could tap into transforming times more than some of the shifts Kingfisher has made. 

Ironically, Kingfisher owns one business that does reflect the common desire for speed and convenience – Screwfix, which can offer click and collect in just one minute. 

It’s a business that has been built through intimate customer knowledge that is then executed upon with flair. That’s a foundation stone of retail success anywhere in the world. 

Click here to read the original article from Retail Week. 

To discuss this article further, you can email me on

re:find help businesses find the talent they need to deliver transformational change.  Clients call us when they need change to happen quickly and effectively. We are Executive Search and Interim Search specialists. 

Click here to read about what we do specifically in the retail sector. 

Supply chain management: An opportunity for transformation?

The world of retail has always been competitive and fast moving. In the current climate, where few are making sustained headway on sales and margin, agility and demand responsiveness are at an even greater premium. For me, this is about supply chain performance where failure can threaten survival, and excellence can transform a company’s market position and financial performance. 

The term supply chain is now as ubiquitous in both the press and government pronouncements. However, the interpretation and scope of supply chain management by people and organisations is varied. Recent research by Cranfield, led by Professor Richard Wilding, found that the senior supply chain manager in around 70% of companies had a place on the divisional or operating board. This is a position that has emerged from nothing in only the last ten years. However, the same research showed that the scope of responsibility varied greatly across the 238 manufacturing companies surveyed.  

What is supply chain management?

The essence of supply chain thinking is about improving the end-to-end processes within a business and with its suppliers and customers, to maximise sales and margin potential.  So the reported fragmentation of responsibility is interesting. For me, supply chain management is about the integration of planning with sourcing, making and delivering.  While the research was carried out mainly with manufacturers, the parallels with retail are strong, with supply chain now having a place on the board, but directors’ responsibilities are not consistently framed across the retail sector. 

Should supply chain calls the shots?

No, this doesn’t mean that supply chain people should call the shots across the business; that would drive a left brain and relatively uncreative retail world and spell potential disaster. From my experience, boards generally see supply chain as a source of risk and disruption. The well-catalogued failures over the years have taken their toll and supply chain operations are perceived as having a negative potential. Suppliers, warehouse operations and systems, parcel operators and others are all seen as potential pitfalls and points of cost with no upside at all. 

For most retailers the planning, buying and merchandising functions (right brained and creative) are not perceived as organised as ‘supply chain’ functions. The paradox is that the financial and reputational risk from lost sales, markdowns and disposals from the planning of flow control processes are worth typically more than double the entire cost of the physical distribution operations. 

How do retailers get it right?

So retailers are damned if they don’t get the operations right, but they are doubly damned if their planning of buying and distribution is lacking. Buying and merchandising is central to retail supply chain management and the real challenge is to manage the tensions between left and right brain thinking, to drive real customer value. By doing this well retailers could see a 5% improvement in like-for-likes and 2% to 3% in net margin. Most CEO’s would kill for that right now and they need to think about their organisational dynamics to get a new balance. 

The multichannel challenge

Multichannel is coming up on the rails so fast it will soon be the outright winner; the problem is that multichannel risks are driving in cost and margin erosion faster than the growth. Right now this is still ‘land grab’ time. Right brains have control and are rushing headlong – and while pursuit of growth is not wrong, it should be challenged if it comes at too great a cost. The fulfilment cost options need to be clearly understood and Boards will need a tighter grasp of the new operating system in order to make balanced long term choices.  Again a consistent offer, well presented and executed by a trusted brand, at a cost that does not erode margin too fast, will be the future. Successful multichannel retailers will be judged by how little they have eroded value, as they have embraced the new normal of e-retailing. 

So what about the future?

Going forward, Boards will need to recognise these twin realities and put in place processes to bring both the left and right brain tensions to their table, well informed by real cost and net margin data. Only then will they make decisions that can protect the business from major surprises. It is both essential for survival and the opportunity for transformation. 

Click here to read the original article from Retail Week. 

To discuss this article further, you can email me on

re:find help businesses find the talent they need to deliver transformational change.  Clients call us when they need change to happen quickly and effectively. We are Executive Search and Interim Search specialists. 

Click here to read about what we do specifically in the retail sector. 

Simplifying the ‘Change Journey’ – can a Change Advisory Board help?

Simplifying he change journey

A change-advisory board (CAB) delivers support to a change-management team by approving requested changes, assisting in the assessment and prioritisation of changes.   A CAB is an integral part of a defined change-management process designed to balance the need for change with the need to minimise inherent risks. 

The CAB members should selectively be chosen to ensure that the requested changes are thoroughly checked and assessed from both a technical and business perspective. The considered change will dictate the required personnel to convene in a CAB meeting.  

A CAB offers multiple perspectives necessary to ensure proper decision-making. For example, a decision made solely by IT may fail to recognise the concerns of accounting. The CAB is tasked with reviewing and prioritising requested changes, monitoring the change process and providing managerial feedback. 

How do you manage a CAB effectively? 

Here are four good tips to running a CAB: 

1. Get the agenda out early and encourage discussions before the CAB. 
Don’t wait until the last minute to publish the upcoming CAB schedule. One of the frustrating things about attending CABs is that attendees often don’t really know much about the changes until they get to the meeting. Publish the list early so attendees have a chance to get up to speed on the proposed changes. This way, they can get with change requestors and sponsors before the meeting to get a clear understanding of what is proposed. If you don’t, then your CAB will be overtaken with efforts to solve any personal issues people have with proposed changes. 

2. DECISION MAKERS attend the CAB. 
The CAB members should be selected based on their knowledge and meaningful input to the meeting. What happens when CAB invitees can’t make it and send their designated hitters? Simple: ensure that then people attending have the authority to speak on the behalf of the person they are sitting in for. There’s nothing more frustrating than discussing a change and a key role says “I don’t think I can speak on that, I’ll have to get approval from my boss.” If they can’t speak on behalf of their boss, then they don’t need to be there. You can either clarify this need with the attendees before the meeting, or reschedule the discussion to a later CAB when the key personnel can attend. 

3. Know your decision thresholds. 
Do not attempt to approve a change that is bigger than you. Follow your organisation’s governance guidelines and determine the rules to decision making. This means that you should know exactly what thresholds (pound amount, risk level, impact, urgency, etc.) you are capable of approving. 

4. Careful not to get into “rubber stamping.” 

Many CABs get overwhelmed with complex and numerous changes. The pressures of getting through these changes during a meeting are enormous. This often results in sloppy approvals that may not receive proper assessment – and can cause incidents once deployed. Ensure that every change request receives the proper attention by scheduling enough time to discuss them. Also, be careful not to blindly approve a request simply based on who is requesting it. I remember a situation where a CAB approved a change simply based on who was requesting it. This “rubber stamp” approval resulted in a poorly managed deployment that caused several hours of downtime. The lesson learned here is that it doesn’t matter who is asking, every change must have the proper amount of analysis and scrutiny. 

To discuss this article further, you can email me on

re:find help businesses find the talent they need to deliver transformational change.  Clients call us when they need change to happen quickly and effectively. We are Executive Search and Interim Search specialists. 

Click here to read about what we do specifically in the retail sector. 

Mindset vs skillset: redefining retail talent for the digital age

Mindset vs skillset: redefining retail talent for the digital age

Today more than ever, chairs and chief executives are seeking our advice about structuring their organisations to compete in the digital age and creating the right leadership model for the future

Increasingly it’s about behaviours, not just skills and experience. 

Historically, retail has been an industry driven by ruthless efficiency, both at head office and in stores, and typically chief exec succession
candidates came from buying and merchandising or operations.  

Now the most likely contenders are a new breed of data-driven, customer-centric marketeers. 

Disrupt or be disrupted 

Companies need to continuously evolve and structures must be more fluid, moving from functions to centres of excellence, and from siloed departments to collaborative teams working together to fulfil the customer mission. 

In many ways mindset has become more important than skillset; creating a learning organisation which is flexible and responsive and able to deal with ambiguity.  

This is where the leadership style of the chief executive is critical. 

Retail is hardly the career of choice for millennials, unless it’s a sexy pureplay, and the old ‘command and control’ approach has to give way to one that is visionary and strategic.  

Pace and agility are key to success, and empowerment and engagement of the internal as well as the external customer is a must. 

Structures need to be flatter and more inclusive, with a sense of purpose and fulfilment that goes beyond work/life balance to truly win hearts and minds. 

Structure diversity 

If the business model is omnichannel, with the majority of sales through stores, then an understanding of the operational disciplines in the form of a really strong chief operating officer may be needed.  

We will have to take a more open approach to organisation design structures.  

Above all, tomorrow’s chief executive must be a visionary with high EQ, who is really good at putting together a team that is collegiate and includes all the skills and talents to win in an increasingly complex and demanding world. 

The message is clear – the route to the top in retail is changing and so must the leadership style.  

And an increasingly fickle and demanding workforce is more likely to identify with a brand that champions collaboration, inclusion and engagement as its core values.  

Click here to read the original article from Retail Week. 

To discuss this article further, you can email me on

re:find help businesses find the talent they need to deliver transformational change.  Clients call us when they need change to happen quickly and effectively. We are Executive Search and Interim Search specialists. 

Click here to read about what we do specifically in the retail sector. 

Preparing for the future of retail: getting to know your people

Preparing for the future of retail

HR professionals gathered recently to discuss the challenges and opportunities presented by HR reporting and analysis in retail. 

Starting point 

The starting point to more effectively understand your people, is to first decide on the data you want to collect, and how the data will be used and analysed. Simply collecting as much data as possible and then attempting to make sense of it is typically a much less successful approach. 

At Travelex, one of the main focuses was on staff retention and the team wanted to better understand how to retain staff. 

Managers were given access to the people data through the Workday system, and Travelex is now seeing changes in behaviours based on a better understanding of that data. If the data highlights an employee is potentially at risk of leaving, managers can now intervene earlier to find out why and potentially take actions to prevent this from happening. 

Implementing new HR technology 

One of the challenges that Travelex faced during implementation was changing the culture across its business in the UK and internationally to adapt to a self-service HR system. To overcome this, the HR team worked closely with the IT department and regional managers to implement the changes. 

The company also focused on local needs, adapting its strategy based on regional and cultural differences internationally. There were also challenges around how the HR system was viewed by employees, and the HR team worked to show employees the value of using the system. 

During the implementation process, it was useful for Travelex to focus on collecting and understanding only a selected set of data points that could be easily analysed and understood, rather than attempting to understand a huge amount of data. The selected data points were easy for managers to dissect and understand in monthly review meetings with their teams. 

The right tools for self-service 

The discussion then moved to giving staff the tools to use the self-service systems in store, and one of the challenges that came up was around connectivity. 

In-store Wi-Fi is as useful for staff to carry out self-service HR functions as it is for consumers to enhance their experience, and definitely something worth investing in for retailers. 

Workday provides extensive self-service capabilities that Travelex staff use on their own mobile devices regardless of their location. 

Valued and effective 

For HR systems to be useful and adopted by employees, they need to be easy to use and not require much training. One of the greatest challenges faced by several retailers in the room was the outdated and difficult-to-use HR systems in place in their businesses. 

Pulling data together manually, having to create reports from scratch and dealing with dissatisfied staff who find the old HR system confusing or difficult to use were common complaints. Aside from changing systems, though, most retailers acknowledged they often needed to do the best they could with what they had available to them. 

Retailers also debate how they can measure the pound value of HR functions for board members, and agreed this is one area where data can help. If people KPIs are agreed at the outset, then showing how those improved and what this means for the business is one way to prove HR’s pound value. It also helps the HR team if they can articulate how using the HR systems will make the life of employees themselves easier – it’s not just about making life easier for HR. 

Looking to the future 

Looking to the future of more effective HCM systems that help HR, employees and managers, the discussion turned again to data and how to use it most effectively. 

Performance reviews online are difficult to get right, as it’s hard to replicate the richness of one-to-one conversations. On a system these conversations become very black and white. It ends up just being a score on a screen. 

Some advice for all retail HR professionals who want to use data to better understand their people: decide what data you’re going to collect and then what you want to understand from that. Unless you’re clear on that, you won’t be able to make better decisions for your employees. 

Click here to read the original article from Retail Week. 

To discuss this article further, you can email me on

re:find help businesses find the talent they need to deliver transformational change.  Clients call us when they need change to happen quickly and effectively. We are Executive Search and Interim Search specialists. 

Click here to read about what we do specifically in the retail sector. 

Transformation takes time

Transformation takes time

Retailers should look on today’s tough market as an opportunity.  The current tough trading conditions and the structural changes to the market give retailers a rare opportunity to establish a winning position for many years to come. 

The squeeze on consumer purchasing power will be a fact of life for some time. But of more importance is the growth of the internet, already influencing a high proportion of transactions, whether in store or online. In some product categories, the internet is rapidly taking over from stores as the main sales channel. 

Tougher times encourage customers to look harder for value, whether that be price, service, design, availability or convenience. This accelerates the growth of new distribution channels and changes to the supply chain as the new technology enables better value to be delivered to customers. 

At the same time cost inflation continues to exceed price inflation, intensifying the profit squeeze. Some retailers have already announced space reduction programmes. 

Inevitably, some retailers now considered invincible will be overtaken by rivals, better attuned to today’s customers expectations, meeting them and earning profits. Some will disappear. Others will survive, shadows of their former selves. Some manufacturers are already trying to bypass retailers completely. And some competitors from other countries can supply from abroad. 

To steer the path to the sunny uplands, three parallel paths have to be followed: 

  • Deal with the short term. In tough markets many retailers increase prices, impose cost reductions that damage the brand and increase promotional activity. This might fool investors but not the customer. Far better to focus on the core brand values, reinforce them and deliver on exceptional execution. Then watch your competitors become weaker. 
  • Define a clear vision of what is needed to be a winner in the next decade and communicate it. Ensure this vision encompasses best practice worldwide, including new and non-traditional potential competitors. Invest in the new skills and resources needed to successfully innovate. Act early. 
  • Provide the transformational leadership needed to overcome the natural inertia and resistance to change. Colleagues want certainty and often find change threatening. Investors want short-term profits and need convincing about the investment. And the media will be a voice for the doubters and vested interests. Innovations need to be protected and nurtured while those dealing with the short term need to feel valued and part of the future. 

Successful transformations are challenging and take time. Many more fail than succeed. It is too easy for management to manage short-term profits, talk about tactical innovations and achieve the incentive plan targets, hoping that the tipping point will not incur on their watch. Remain in denial too long and it will be too late. 

The leadership need to have the foresight to see the opportunities early and the motivation, incentive and skill to manage a successful transformation. 

Leading colleagues, investors and other stakeholders through the transition and the associated learning process is a tough challenge but immensely satisfying. 

Click here to read the original article from Retail Week. 

To discuss this article further, you can email me on

re:find help businesses find the talent they need to deliver transformational change.  Clients call us when they need change to happen quickly and effectively. We are Executive Search and Interim Search specialists. 

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A store without stock? Yes please.

A store without stock is still a store

You don’t need to have ‘stuff’ in a store for it to be a shop. There are alternatives. 

Imagine this. You’re in shopping mode and heading down to the high street. There are a load of stores with shelves groaning under the weight of all the inventory displayed within their walls. You are spoilt for choice. 

Yet instead of selecting from any of them, you head for the one emporium that appears to have no stock whatsoever. It might sound a curious decision, but it is not without merit. 

You’re a modern person and you know your way around both your laptop and the smartphone to which you are umbilically attached. 

So you know exactly what’s out there and what the price of almost everything is, long before you arrive at the shops. All you have to do is pick up your order and perhaps have a little ‘service’ time. 

That is the underlying premise of Nordstrom Local, an offshoot of the eponymous Seattle-based department store group designed to provide a more convenient option for existing customers, layered with a range of services. 

At present there are two Nordstrom Locals, both in Los Angeles. The first opened at the end of last year and the second, measuring 3,000 sq ft, welcomed its first ‘shoppers’ a couple of months back. 

They do have a very limited amount of fashion stock, but none of it can be taken away and the clothes are really just there as tasters of what Nordstrom is about. 

More to the point, they are not just glorified click-and-collect stations. Instead, visitors can have a coffee at the in-store café (or maybe even a ‘drink’ drink) while they wait for their shoes to be repaired, having handed in their clothes to the dry cleaner, prior to having a manicure. This is service. 

And shoppers appear to like it. Two more Nordstom Locals are scheduled for LA this year and it’s a fair bet that more will follow in other large Nordstrom-friendly conurbations. 

Is this, however, a store? It doesn’t really have anything tangible that you can buy in situ and walk away with, but it does provide something that Amazon at present cannot. 

Shoppers may make purchases online, but they can then enjoy a range of services as they complete the transactional loop when picking up the goods. 

This is an online shop with bells and whistles and seems a good alternative to the mundane click-and-collect counter. There are also reasons to come back. 

Nordstom Local may not be the whole of the future, but it certainly looks like one direction in which things are headed. 

Click here to read the original article from Retail Week. 

To discuss this article further, you can email me on

re:find help businesses find the talent they need to deliver transformational change.  Clients call us when they need change to happen quickly and effectively. We are Executive Search and Interim Search specialists. 

Click here to read about what we do specifically in the retail sector. 

Restructure in retail – will the changes prove counter-productive?

Restructure in retail

Tesco has launched a consultation with 9,000 workers as it ramps up efforts to build a “simpler, more sustainable business”. 

The supermarket giant is proposing a raft of changes that will affect staff working on in-store counters and in stock management, merchandising, staff canteens and head office operations. 

It has been a constant theme during Dave Lewis’ four years in charge of Tesco – building a simpler, more sustainable business, focused on serving customers better. 

On Monday, Tesco revealed the latest phase of that long and arduous journey during a series of emotionally charged meetings with staff. 

The grocer is streamlining its operations across a number of areas, which will impact 9,000 staff. Around half of them are expected to lose their jobs

Service counters such as fishmonger’s, butcher’s and delicatessens will close in 90 Tesco stores. The number of hours required on merchandising will be slashed as the grocery giant reduces the number of layout changes it makes in its supermarkets. 

Similarly, there will be a “significantly reduced workload” for those working on stock management as new technologies track gaps on shelves. Staff canteens will no longer have a hot food service – negating the need to employ third-party caterers – and 500 jobs will be axed at head office as the retailer moves to a “simpler and leaner structure” at Welwyn Garden City. 

Basic economics 

Bernstein analyst Bruno Monteyne, a former Tesco director, also understands the motivations behind the grocer’s sweeping changes. 

He believes they would have been “planned and executed over several years”, rather than being a knee-jerk reaction to the “competitive and challenging market’”. 

Those challenges have been born out much more than the changing shopper habits Tarry alludes to. A perfect storm of rising rents, ballooning business rates, the increasing popularity of online shopping and the relentless onslaught of the discounters has forced Tesco – and its big four rivals – to radically rethink operations. 

“The increased wage costs, National Insurance contributions, business rates and the like will all contribute to the basic economics of the counter operation making little sense in many stores,” Grocery Insight director Steve Dresser says. 

The emergence of the discounters as a mainstay of British food shopping has also played a big part in Tesco’s streamlining. The supermarket giant is bidding to regain a group margin of 3.5% to 4% by 2020, and so operating in a more efficient fashion – in the way that Aldi and Lidl so famously do – has been a central driver. 

But the growth of the German duo has had some potentially unforeseen consequences. As Tesco ploughed investment into its entry-level ranges – creating the successful stable of ‘Exclusively at Tesco’ brands – shoppers have been slowly lured away from the service counters that were so long seen as a crucial differentiator between big-four operators and their discount counterparts. 

“The irony with this strategy is that chasing discounters in meat, fish and cooked meats has led to a strengthening of the value tier in terms of price points and range, designed to stop discounters establishing a price gap,” Dresser explains. 

“However, if you make your aisle of product cheaper and certainly equivalent to discounters’, then there are fewer reasons to visit the service counters unless you are a real die-hard shopper.” 

Beware the pitfalls 

The finances, then, seem to stack up. But could the changes have an adverse effect on the store experience? It is a pitfall that both Sainsbury’s and Asda have fallen into in the not-too-distant past. 

Both grocers made radical changes to store teams over the past few years, most recently Sainsbury’s when it “reset” its shopfloor structure in 2018. The business “streamlined” the number of in-store roles, creating five “broader” positions – down from the 22 it used to offer. 

But availability in its stores suffered during a hectic summer of trading, as its supermarkets struggled to keep up with demand heightened by the heatwave and England’s surprise progression in the World Cup. Those issues were not fully addressed ahead of the crucial Christmas period, despite the protestations of boss Mike Coupe. 

Similar fears may well be raised among analysts and Tesco investors after it said it had “found a simpler way to conduct store routines”, which would be rolled out to all its shops. 

Clive Black, head of research at M&S and Morrisons house broker Shore Capital, is among those who admits he will be “watching with heightened interest to see overall availability in the estate over time” as the new model filters through. 

Roberts, however, has few concerns and suggests some of the hours freed up from the service counters could be used to make sure customer service and availability do not deteriorate in a similar fashion. 

“You can tell that counter staff aren’t all rushed off their feet. If they can be redeployed elsewhere to contribute a lot more to customer service, or to improve availability, then arguably that’s a better use of their time and Tesco’s money than standing behind a quiet service counter. I wouldn’t read too much into it in terms of the impact it will have on the broader offer,” he argues. 

Minor risk 

But could the loss of those counters – and the expert knowledge that employees working on them are supposed to provide – ultimately lead to a loss of customers? After all, Morrisons sees its market street proposition of butchers, bakers and fishmongers as a key USP – and that could leave it well-positioned to reap the rewards of Tesco’s move. 

“To some shoppers, at least, counters are an important part of how they shop. It might be the case that this is a deal-breaker for them and they will shop elsewhere,” Roberts says. 

“The obvious choice for those shoppers would be Morrisons and, to a lesser extent, Waitrose. Indies as well might be able to step up to the plate on meat and fish in particular. But ultimately, fresh fish in the UK is such a microscopic part of our way of life that not many people are going to miss those counters. 

“So the overall risk of Tesco losing customers is minor. It doesn’t appear that a lot of shoppers are habitually frequenting the counters and spending a lot of money through them.” 

Echoing Roberts’ views, Monteyne concludes that “the plan reassures us in many ways” and insists the impact on Tesco’s quality credentials “should be minimal”. 

But the effect on costs should be more visible. Monteyne estimates Tesco will save between £150m and £170m a year as a result of the latest structural changes. About 70% of those benefits will be felt in 2019/20 – the year Tesco is aiming to return group margins to that magic figure of almost 4%. 

Monteyne’s ultimate conclusion should ring in the ears of Tesco’s critics and rivals: “Anybody doubting the Tesco margin recovery should think again.” 

Click here to read the full article by Retail Week 

To discuss this further, you can email me on

re:find help businesses find the talent they need to deliver transformational change.  Clients call us when they need change to happen quickly and effectively. We are Executive Search and Interim Search specialists. 

Click here to read about what we do specifically in the retail sector.

AI in action – the transformation of retail

AI in action – the transformation of retail

The opportunities presented by artificial intelligence are potentially transformative. And far from it being a technology of tomorrow, many retailers are already exploiting it. And the reasons are clear: a survey carried out by Vista Retail Support in August 2018, shows that 77% of UK consumers feel that artificial intelligence (AI) can “transform their shopping experiences”. More than two-thirds believe retailers should be doing more to bring the technology into their stores. 

But what does that mean in practice? The emergence of new tech tools – and an accompanying lexicon of new words and phrases – means there is a lot that 21st century retail boards need to get to grips with. 

So where is the retail industry at with this futuristic technology? Click here to read the full article by Retail Week, as we take a look at some of the most exciting examples of AI in action. 

1. AI-powered visual search 

Shoppers don’t want to spend hours searching for clothes online, especially on a touchscreen. As Aubrey-Cound points out, how people like to browse is – “visually – they don’t want to do it with text”. 

Cue one of the most important developments in ecommerce to date: visual search. 

Instead of suggesting products that are similar only on paper, visual search presents shoppers with clothes that look and feel like the ones they are browsing. Instead of size and colour alone, they can find items with the same style or detail. Big name retailers are committing to the AI tech that drives it.

In the UK John Lewis has permanently installed ‘Cortexica’s Find Similar’ technology on its iPad app, after a six-month trial.

2. Stock optimisation 

There is nothing new about the need to keep shelves stacked and stock up to date. But with stores and warehouses hooked up to increasingly busy and complex ecommerce sites, there has never before been such a need for speed. 

With 491 stores, Morrisons decided it needed to get on board with the technology. The solution highlighted one of the most important and potentially valuable uses of AI – replenishment optimisation. 

The grocer’s partnership with AI specialist Blue Yonder led to a 30% reduction in shelf gaps for starters. 

Taking into account a whole range of factors, including weather forecasts and public holidays, as well as automatically analysing sales and stock data from stores, the system Morrisons uses now makes 13 million stock ordering decisions per day. 

Morrisons chief executive David Potts has described the replenishment system as the retailer’s “biggest new initiative” in technology. 

The use of this technology is by no means confined to the grocery sector. In fast fashion, where huge volumes of product moves in and out of warehouses barely touching the shelves, the possibilities of automation are plentiful.

3. The use of chatbots 

“If you think you can spot a robot a mile off, take a minute to reflect on Amazon’s voice-activated AI assistant Alexa. The fact that ‘she’ isn’t real didn’t stop more than a quarter of a million of users proposing to Alexa last year. Millions more have happily chatted away with AI chatbot customer service agents – inappropriately or not – as though they were nattering with a human.” 

Whether their customers know it or not, some big retailers are using chatbots as live agents on their customer service lines and to help steer shoppers to products. 

A survey by IBM last year revealed that 65% of millennials say they prefer to be greeted by a chatbot than a human agent. So bots are not just a way of cutting back costs on call centres – they are preferred by many users and are more sophisticated than humans when it comes to searching vast quantities of information. 

4. Intelligent recommendations 

Since not long after ecommerce began to take off, retailers have been offering suggestions to shoppers based on previous purchases. AI takes this to another level. 

North Face’s platform doesn’t just remember what shoppers have bought in the past, it uses IBM’s Watson AI to work out what you might need – after all, a stroll through the Peak District and a trek up Mount Kilimanjaro are very different scenarios. 

Using AI to process a variety of data about the customer, from the usual characteristics such as height and weight to more specific details such as where in the world they’re off to, North Face offers shoppers gear customised for each trip. 

5. Personalised marketing on the go 

AI isn’t quite in the era predicted in Minority Report, where a shopper will be recognised and assisted the second they set foot in a store. 

But that is not to say that AI hasn’t made it into the real, bricks-and-mortar world. 

Early versions of shopping apps were little more than a hand-held directory of a mall or even a high street. This is being refined with more intelligent systems that ‘guide’ shoppers around stores, knowing – thanks to geolocationing technology – where they are in a store, backed up by AI to help them find what they’re looking for. 

US department store Macy’s has made some of the most exciting advances in this field. In 2016, working with IBM Watson, the retailer unveiled the Macy’s On Call app, the closest thing so far to a smartphone personal shopper. 

Customers type in what they’re looking for and are then directed by the app to the right place in the store. With time the AI-powered app learns and refines the answers it gives back based on that shopper’s individual habits. With its in-built geolocation, intelligent learning ability, chatbot and visual search functions, the Macy’s app ticks a lot of AI boxes. 

To discuss this further, you can email me on

re:find help businesses find the talent they need to deliver transformational change.  Clients call us when they need change to happen quickly and effectively. We are Executive Search and Interim Search specialists. 

Click here to read about what we do specifically in the retail sector.