Movers & Shakers Q&A – Emma Heal, MD for UK Retail at Graze

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Emma Heal, MD for UK Retail at Graze

1. What is the greatest opportunity for your business?

Whilst technology has changed the trajectory of various industries over the last few years, the FMCG/CPG sector has historically lagged behind in this development. Graze saw an opportunity in the many ways tech could enable growth in the industry. The areas we are particularly excited about exploring even further include how we are able to utilise multi-channel data to understand consumers better, how we can create new models to rapidly innovate, driving disruptive ways to build the brand and how we can organise the business to grow more rapidly across channels and geographies.

2. What is the biggest challenge to your business?

The challenge with technology is the sheer number of trends that you can dip into but the impossibility of specialising in all of them. Knowing which levers drive the most value and focusing resource on them is the key. Graze is a pioneer in the industry so there is no direct analogue for the business, meaning we try a lot of things that haven’t been done before. In these situations inevitably some ideas will fail, but the key is to do it fast, learn from your mistakes and adapt.

3. With the benefit of hindsight what would you have done differently so far?

The UK retail launch and its subsequent success has been phenomenal, hitting a +£35m RSV run rate in less than two years, and we now recognise that we could have gone multi-channel sooner. We enjoyed excellent brand awareness and reputation through the success of our subscription business, and because of this retailers were asking for us to launch into stores and consumers wanted to interact with us on a more frequent basis than a weekly subscription box.

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

I think the debate of clicks vs. bricks has come a long way, with the two now understood to be completely interlinked in terms of customer journey experience.  Bricks and mortar destinations can and have to compete in a fundamentally different way to their online counterparts.  Tech can enhance what goes on in-store. It’s not all about simply selling online. Retailers will become more agile and better at using online channels to listen to what their consumers want and be able to deliver it more quickly in the future.

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

We think there is a better way of innovating in FMCG and have a fundamentally different model which releases more MVP products online and utilises rapid feedback loops to iterate and build FFP. We then take our propositions to physical retailers with confidence that they will hit the shelves and sell. We are constantly improving our tech capabilities to enable this rapidly innovation loop on an ongoing basis.

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

We have a great Customer Services team that encompasses touch points beyond direct communication via thousands of social media interactions – approximately 10,000 a week across various channels. We believe this personalised approach is imperative to the success of graze’s brand with another example of this being that we personally answer around 5,000 emails a week to US and UK consumers.

7. What other retail business do you admire?

From experience and now having seen Graze operate in several countries, I’m constantly reminded just how competitive the FMCG UK market is and the lengths the top UK grocery chains must go to in order to maintain market share. Inevitably the ones who partner with suppliers to try the sling-shot ideas, and amplify the winners at scale – will prosper. Tesco for example are certainly driving a collaborative approach to their tech/differentiation agenda hard.  I continue to be impressed with how ASOS advances through huge international expansion. Being a “fashion-forward” brand means operating in one of the most competitive verticals, where they have to be ruthlessly cutting edge and innovation-led to survive.  ASOS continue to outperform the market and are the standard bearer for how pure-play tech businesses should operate.

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

I’m in a rather interesting position as it is, as Graze operates from the unique position of both retailer and manufacturer across several geographies, with DNA firmly routed in tech.  As such I don’t really identify as just a retailer and enjoy the distinctive opportunities that operating in a business with multiple business units exposes.

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

Hats off and a resounding 10 to the graze team who took the business from clicks to bricks in a matter of months. Very few had any FMCG/CPG experience, but all had fantastic entrepreneurial, gutsy and fearless attitudes, which has been the backbone of our phenomenal launch and growth to date. It’s been a privilege to lead the retail business through such a vibrant and demanding phase of change and now to capitalise on all the hard work of so many. We now have the opportunity to do it all again in the USA!

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

Classic names that spring immediately to mind are Alex Baldock at Shop Direct for leading the business’ incredible digital transformation, and Nick Beighton at ASOS for beautifully transitioning from CFO to CEO, whilst simultaneously driving a huge growth agenda. With respect to people to watch, I think it will be fascinating to see how both Missguided and Boohoo’s CEOs, Nitin Passi and Mahmud Karmani/Carol Kane respectively,  adapt their operating models to conquer the US market, such as trying out physical stores. I’m looking forward to seeing what else they have up their sleeves.

This is one in an ongoing series of Q&A’s with individuals that are featured in the annual ‘Retail Insider Movers & Shakers in Retail Top 100’ report.