Sara Prowse, CEO, Hotter Shoes
1. What is the greatest opportunity for your business?
International expansion, with continued growth in the US in particular. We are approaching this opportunity in two ways: through digital expansion; and through retail partnerships.
2. What is the biggest challenge to your business?
External pressures. Consumer confidence is likely to be challenging for retailers and brands this year, and pressure on costs, with the weakness in the exchange rate. As a result we need to focus on what we do best, making great quality footwear that our customers love. We are less exposed to the exchange rate impacts compared to some of our competitors as we manufacture in the UK, but we do buy components overseas and so we need to ensure we manage our cost base as effectively as we can, and ensure we are lean and fit as an organisation so we can sustain any bumps in the road that we may experience this year.
3. With the benefit of hindsight what would you have done differently so far in your career?
Retail found me as a career. My first job was at River Island in the merchandising team. I didn’t even know what merchandising was back then, and I took the job with a view it would be a good stop gap while I figured out what I really wanted to do, and that ended up being retail. Twenty five years later I am still in the industry and love it. I feel very lucky as I have enjoyed each stage of my career, and reflecting back I don’t think I would have changed anything.
4. What is the future of the physical store and the high street?
The future for the physical store is one of change. I believe it has a very important part to play in the omni-channel mix. The future belongs to brands that in the first instance are customer facing, and meet the needs of their customers, allowing her to shop where she wants, when she wants, and for the experience to feel consistent across all the channels, physically or digital. At Hotter we are focused on creating a seamless experience across our channels, our 77 retail stores, online, mobile, catalogue, and retail partnerships through our wholesale business, all have a key part to play in our growth strategy.
5. What technology-related plans have you got for the next 12 months?
It’s a very busy year for us on that front. We have a very busy digital road map, with lots of customer experience improvements, on our website, on our mobile site and in our digital marketing. We are planning to replace and upgrade our telephony platform which will enable us to harness web chat, improve our customer emails, and integrate to social media. We are also in the discovery phase for a full ERP implementation. So it’s a packed agenda.
6. What other retail businesses do you admire?
John Lewis is my favourite retailer personally as a consumer but also professionally. I think they truly understand and deliver great customer experience across all channels. Brands I admire would be Ted Baker, an amazing success story of a small shirt retailer ascending to a hugely successful global brand, whilst maintaining its personality, its heritage and personal culture. Jo Malone is another brand I admire. I love everything about the brand – the product, the packaging, and the in-store experience.
7. If you hadn’t been a retailer what would you have liked to do?
Run a yoga retreat in Hawaii. I may still do that.
8. What marks out of 10 do you give yourself so far for achievement?
10 obviously! No seriously, I am happy with my career achievements so far, but there is always room for improvement and growth, personally and professional
9. Who would you place in the Top 25 Multi-channel/e-commerce Movers & Shakers?
I would place my omni-channel director Vicky Betts as one-to-watch. She has real energy, drive and excitement, and has the digital retail X factor. I would also put Jonathan Wall on the list. He has done great things at Shop Direct, and I was lucky to work with him during his early years at the company.
The individuals featured in the Movers & Shakers Q&A’s all appear in the ‘Retail Insider Movers & Shakers in Retail Top 100’ report: (2016 version).