Retail Insider is pleased to bring you a Q&A with Tony Buffin, CEO, Holland & Barrett, that was conducted before Coronavirus.

1. What is the greatest opportunity for your business?

Digital growth and digital interaction with our customers is really important and this extends through product differentiation, range extension, and product customisation. We also want to provide customers with health and wellbeing solutions including access to services. We’ll provide access to services but not necessarily deliver the services ourselves. We’ll also look to link products and services together in order to provide preventative healthcare by understanding customers better.

There is also the issue of ethicality. We are an ethical business in that we exclude lots of nasty ingredients from products – and we have largely plant-based products. We’ll give more choices for both plant and non-plant based products over time.  We need to be more ethical in our packaging and so we’re moving into shampoo bars, for instance, that we can put in cardboard. We hope to extend this to the packaging in vitamins, food and beauty products.

2. What is the biggest challenge to your business?

Navigating the paradigm shift – digitally and physically. One question we are often asked is: how many shops are needed? It’s not necessarily about shops but touchpoints and we need touchpoints. They are likely to be a different configuration from what we presently have in place. It’s not about physical or digital touchpoints, it’s all about the complementarity of the two channels.

There is also a cultural and capabilities shift taking place in the organisation. It’s about having the right technology, e-commerce distribution and services talent in order to deliver on the physical and digital touchpoints we’re creating. We need different people to build digital than would be found in typical retailers at present. If we get this right then we should do well.

Tony Buffin of Holland & Barrett

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

I’m only nine months in so there’s not much I’d do differently so far. We’ve changed a lot of the management team during this period, driven cash from the business, regained sales momentum and are starting to see profitability growth come through. I now want to spend more time looking at the future of the business and in our international markets.

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

It’s fundamental for click & collect and for integrating online and offline as well as giving brand presence and awareness.

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

We’ve huge plans. We’re building the Holland & Barrett business system through our own coding teams and not by buying in systems from outside. We’re looking to bring in more technology and data science capabilities that will drive the offer. This means we’re building an H&B eco-system that will integrate online and offline product purchase, services and information delivery.

7. What other retail businesses do you admire?

Mecca in Australia and Lush and Aveda in the UK as pure retailers and Aldi and Action across Europe within the hard discounter space. In the retail business systems space then Screwfix and Toolstation are bringing online and offline together really well. They are wonderful in having extended online propositions alongside lots of stores. Then there is D-Mall in China that shows you what supermarkets might look like in the future. In the online space there is Amazon and Alibaba who are great at catching data. Finally, in the direct to consumer space there’s Dyson and Gymshark.

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