Retail Insider Breakfast – Ewan Venters, CEO, Fortnum & Mason

Retail Insider held its first Breakfast Event of 2017 with Ewan Venters, CEO of Fortnum & Mason, who highlighted how the 310-year-old iconic retailing brand has never been stronger following a raft of initiatives over the past few years.

Since taking on the CEO role in 2012 he says he has sought to both recognise the long history of the company while also looking forward. The owners of the business, the Weston family, have helped his thinking by not enforcing a short-term view.

Senior executives from Sainsbury’s, Marks & Spencer, Amazon, TM Lewin, Graze and Metro Bank were among those who heard how Venters has initiated some important changes at the business. These have included investing in the hospitality aspect of the company, opening a store at Heathrow Airport’s T5, opening various shop-in-shops around the world in high-end department stores, and investing in F&M’s technology capability.

He told those gathered in the Boardroom at the Fortnum & Mason flagship store on London’s Piccadilly that an underlying aim during his tenure has been to “make Fortnum’s relevant to more people and more often”.

“You need ambition and confidence in your pricing and to also offer value. The domestic customer is now our strongest [percentage in the mix], with 60% of our business now coming from UK addresses,” he explains.

Although F&M might not be recognised as being at the forefront of technology Venters says it has been delivering hampers since 1730, with a lot of these going overseas, so it arguably has home delivery as part of its DNA.

“We’re the original multi-channel retailer. We’ve had a great platform on which to build our digital [capabilities]. When I joined we had a website but it was old fashioned and not strong enough. We did a re-platform and now 20% of sales are online, wit 19% from outside the UK. The growth opportunity is really strong,” he suggests.

This has led to a shift in thinking around the IT strategy, according to Venters, who says: “From having an IT department that took the safe option, technology is now at the heart of what we do. We’re upping our game.”

What is interesting about its online strategy is that it does not feel the need to have the full in-store offer replicated online. “It’s not the full offer available as I believe that’s not efficient. We’ve made choices and we’ve edited the range. If things don’t make sense then we’ll not do it,” he says, adding that the same thinking has been applied to delivery charges.

When he joined the company it had a policy, like many other retailers, of offering free deliveries over £50 but he scrapped it because it did not make financial sense. Such a move has been understood by Fortnum’s customers, he suggests.

These sorts of brave moves have clearly been paying off as they have undoubtedly contributed to the company delivering significantly increased sales and profitability as well as increased online sales.

Retail Insider would very much like to thank Ewan Venters and the morning’s sponsors PCMS Group, K3 Retail and Bond Dickinson. Without their much appreciated support this event would not have been possible.

Glynn Davis, editor, Retail Insider