Movers & Shakers Q&A – Dave Elston, digital director Europe, Clarks

Movers and Shakers 2015-Cover

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Dave Elston, digital director Europe, Clarks

1. What is the greatest opportunity for your business?

To continue to grow our business internationally is a definite opportunity. We’ve a recognised brand overseas but not to the same extent as in the UK. We want to be a global brand. Our digital transformation goes hand in hand with this now that the consumer is interested digitally – for commerce and for the brand.


2. What is the biggest challenge to your business?

There are always many. If we were new then things could be harder but as a long established business we are taking steps to overcome the challenges relating to the culture that is inherent in a company that’s 175 years old. More of an issue is the macro rather than internal environment such as changing customer expectations and demands, volatility of the global economy, and things that were an opportunity five years ago but are now an issue including switching manufacturing to the Far East.

3. What is the future of the physical store and the high street?

We’re actively working on our stores and they will be more experiential. Click & collect is having a massive impact. It is driving traffic into stores so technically we need to manage this. What does it mean for the range in-store? How many goods will be needed?

4. What technology-related plans have you got for the next 12 months?

We’re in the midst of a re-platforming. We’ve a legacy system and we’re moving to Hybris. They have a roadmap of updates so we’re thinking of not having it changed to be more bespoke for our business as we’ll then get to the point of again having a legacy system.

5. With the issue of digital wildfire how do you understand and control your growing digital landscape?

We’ve got a lot of it. We’re a brand and we work with lots of partners around the world. Distributors manage territories and we’ve also got many agencies. It’s about balancing governance (reviewing contracts) with stakeholder management. The contracts could be old so what’s acceptable online now and what’s not? It’s a work in progress.

6. If you hadn’t been a retailer what would you have liked to do?

I’d have been either a mathematician or an actuary. When I was 18 or 19 I wanted to be an actuary as I love maths. Or a fighter pilot but I realised I don’t like flying.

7. What marks out of 10 do you give yourself so far for achievement?

Without wanting to sound arrogant, for certain things I’d go with 10 out of 10 such as running Oxford Street HMV in 2000 when it was the world’s biggest record shop. I did some cool stuff at HMV online such as a great in-store kiosk and a nice implementation of a website for them. At Clarks I’ve established European websites with multiple stakeholders. It was the first time we’d gone direct to consumers in Europe. It’s not worth 10 out of 10 now but I was very pleased with it at the time. It’s a case of if only I knew then what I know now.

8. What other retail business do you admire?

Waitrose – except for the online experience – because of the great way they deal with customers. And they’ve a good beer selection. They are let down by the offer online but I still shop with them as a like the brand. I also like the Pitney Farm Shop, which stocks Moor Beer, and there’s Beers of Europe, The Bottle Shop in Canterbury, and Rise Records in Bristol.

9. Who would you place in the Top 25 Multi-channel/e-commerce Movers & Shakers?

Sean McKee at Schuh. They do a lot of good things in-house and I like him. David Williams at Deckers is very sensible, David Kohn at Heal’s, and Martin Newman at Practicology who spotted an opportunity and has built a good business. You either go to him or Deloitte and Accenture!