Martin Francis, chief customer officer, WoolOvers
1. What is the greatest opportunity for your business?
Before reading this interview you probably hadn’t heard of WoolOvers and that is our opportunity. If I told you about our expertise in knitwear since 1989, the breadth of colour and choice we have in our ranges (at a surprisingly affordable price), and then I tell you it’s all natural and machine washable, you would hopefully want to give us a try.
2. What is the biggest challenge to your business?
We have changed everything in the business over the last 12 months – including a new web platform for eight websites, a new email provider, a new payment gateway, a new factory shop, new delivery carriers, a new team, and updated offices and warehouse. You name it we have changed it, and whilst that is exciting you also have to ensure you all remember to breathe.
3. With the benefit of hindsight what would you have done differently so far?
Breathe. Any failures we have had we have all learned from it – so no regrets, right?
4. What is the future of the physical store and the high street?
From my time at House of Fraser I have learned that a strong multi-channel proposition is, by far, the way to run a great business. Digital will end up saving the store (from killer to cure). Customers will be happy so long as we find ways to create great retail theatre and excitement in stores, with digital enhancing the overall customer experience.
5. What technology-related plans have you got for the next 12 months?
We still have plenty of work to continue to accelerate our business, so we have lots of projects on the roadmap but our most significant project will be to improve our CRM capabilities.
6. With the issue of digital wildfire how do you understand and control your growing digital landscape?
Be proactive. Digital is still in revolution and therefore it changes fast, which means you have to too. All retailers want to look after their customers and they expect you to have this top of your list so you need to ensure it is top of the priority list and not just a nice to have!
7. What other retail business do you admire?
I have always been fond of Shop Direct and how they have intelligently approached digital. Joules clothing is also a business to admire having come from the same humble beginnings of WoolOvers (starting at Country fairs in the fields of Britain). They are a great example of how to grow successfully through building a strong brand and identity.
8. If you hadn’t been a retailer what would you have liked to do?
A games console tester for Sony!
9. What marks out of 10 do you give yourself so far for achievement?
In retail you are only as good as your last sale so I always feel that I could do better. This motivates me and my team to try to constantly keep improving. I will leave other people to do the scoring.
10. Who would you place in the Top 50 Movers & Shakers in Retail?
There are lots of great people I have worked with that could be, although I see Andy Harding is already in there and deservedly so. I also think Simon Pritchard, the group digital director at Arcadia, Maddie Melson, the director of customer Insight at House of Fraser and, of course, Neil Sansom here at WoolOvers could be on the list.
If I could have a wild card, I would definitely include Martha Lane Fox in there too. Her 2015 Dimbleby lecture on empowering digital Britain and ensuring that our government takes a more aggressive approach to accelerating digital infrastructure, culture and education was truly inspiring and one which I fully support.