Insiders’ view of the world of headhunting

New Monthly column – Excerpts from a day in the life of a head-hunter in the leisure/hospitality/retail sectors

Century Club: the new hang-out
8:30am Arrive at Century Club

Much of my time is spent in hotel foyers, coffee shops and if I’m lucky the odd pub for what amounts to numerous meetings every week. But since joining the Century Club I’ve spent less time in random locations as I’ve benefited greatly from its central location, the superior service levels. There have been an increasing number of reasons for me not to go back to my former nomadic style of meetings. The great thing about such clubs is that you get a choice of bars and rooms to suit the occasion. It also looks and feels relevant for today, with its recently exposed brick-work and half-stripped paintwork which is a style that’s been replicated by many retailers (especially the independents) for their shop-fits.
9:00 Candidate meeting with a retail executive

Fascinating bit of insight gleaned from a meeting with a senior guy at a large high street operator. The business is doing some great collaborative deals including one involving stocking The Times newspaper in each outlet, which nets it a £500,000 annual cheque regardless of the level of paper sales. It also involves the retailer featured in a large front-page banner ad in the paper for a promotion that it funds through giving away free products – but it gains impressive footfall. Another deal involves a mobile phone network that is using the retailer to help it recruit people to its loyalty programme. The phone company funds the free products that the retailer gives away, once customers have signed up to the scheme. Again, this drives impressive footfall into the merchant’s stores.
11:00 Visit Pret a Manger

Between meetings, a trip to Pret proves a bit of a shock because for once the experience is a let-down. Historically the team behind the counter in each of its cafes have always acknowledged a waiting customer, but this time I’m left standing in what is a very quiet venue so there was no excuse. It is hoped that this is not a sign of things to come now that the two founders no longer have an involvement in the business and private equity owners are now pulling the strings. The previous skill of Pret staff was giving the feeling of reducing the queues by simply talking to customers. It was done to perfection so this recent experience is a worry.
Pret: will service levels hold up?
12:30 Candidate meeting with a retail executive for a role in a marketing and PR communications business

2:00pm Visit to Lillywhites

The need to buy a new golf club and glove led to my visit to this once authoritative sports store on Piccadilly. Sadly it has lots all of its cache and is now little more than a pile-it-high-sell-it-cheap emporium. It also used to have great (Grace Brothers) levels of service but customers today receive indifferent service. The best memory of my visit was the low price of the glove, which enabled me to buy three for the price of one. But as a 21stcentury sports retail experience it was poor. The shop was cluttered, with too much choice, and the lift never arrived so there was a walk up five flights of stairs. Maybe if price is the most important thing then this is the sort of sacrifice that has to be made. In contrast, the nearby Nike Town is the Apple of sports retail. I suppose you do ultimately get what you pay for.
3:00pm Client meeting with a chief executive and HR director of a food retail business

They are looking to restructure the board – starting with two senior appointments – with the underlying objective of bringing in some retail-focused skill-sets. I reckon this is a broad trend in the leisure sector. The company is intent on re-energising the business around customer experience but also with that essential component – sustainable profits.
4:30pm Travel back to the office

Sponsored column by Nigel Sapsed, director of executive search specialist Sapsed Stevens