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Hobbycraft CEO Catriona Marshall


Mums with pushchairs are a profitable demographic for retailers to target, and it is just these sort of consumers that arts & crafts specialist Hobbycraft hopes to attract following the rollout of its new-look outlets in the UK.

The first of these concept stores opened in Orpington last Thursday complete with a new brand image, coloured zones and improved lighting, and these outlets, which are reminiscent of UK department stores, are tasked with attracting a younger clientele.

CEO of the firm Catriona Marshall, who joined from Pets at Home on February 1st this year, tells Retail Gazette that the plans are part of the group’s goal of gaining a larger slice of the arts & crafts market and becoming a much more vibrant retailer to shop at.

“We want to make our stores much more desirable places to visit and we’re looking at much more higher footfall sites in the year ahead,” she explains.

“Unless you know what we’re about, we’re not the most compelling retailer – we’re redesigning to be much more vibrant and friendly and to appeal to 25-35-year-old women with children, as well as our core over-45 crafter audience.”

With profits up around £5 million to £10.2 million in 2009/10 and turnover increasing almost £20 million year-on-year to £84.4 million during the same period, it is encouraging to see that Hobbycraft is investing money back into the business despite already experiencing success.

Creating an element of theatre by implementing in-store changes is a vital part of any retail set-up, and it is crucial that even the companies doing well do not rest on their laurels at a time when standing still can be the death knell for any retail business.

“We’ve transformed our style with the new Orpington shop – it’s such a nicer place to be,” Marshall says.

“We’re trying to appeal to a wider customer base and to sustain growth for the future.”

Changes expected to be made to the other 51 stores in Hobbycraft’s portfolio include bringing less niche craft products to the front of stores to appeal to a wider market, as well actually teaching customers how to make things.

The new-look Hobbycraft in Orpington aims to appeal to a younger customer base
The new-look Hobbycraft in Orpington aims to appeal to a younger customer base

Practical classes are now available in some stores and all of Hobbycraft’s outlets now host product demonstrations, with the key focus on showcasing jewellery design and entertaining children.

All of these plans are being introduced without alienating the core customer that has brought Hobbycraft its initial success since launching in Bournemouth 16 years ago.

“People into crafts are very much on trend, looking for the latest products, and historically we’ve been too slow to respond to this,” Marshall comments.

“We’re setting ourselves on trend as fast as possible and then we want to be in a position to develop and create the fashions ourselves.”

Hobbycraft was acquired by private equity firm Bridgepoint Capital last year in a deal reported to be worth around £100 million, and the first major move by the new owner was to appoint Marshall in place of long-serving ex-CEO Chris Crombie.

Taking over the reins from someone who had held senior positions at Hobbycraft for 14 years is certainly never going to be easy, but it is clear that the new boss has brought with her a fresh outlook to the business that is pleasing both customers and colleagues.

“We needed a fresh base and we wanted to revitalise the customer offer, but the team has been very positive about what needs to happen,” she states

“It’s a fantastic business and there’s lots of pride in it and a great appetite among staff to make it even better. Me arriving with an agenda for change has been readily accepted.”

Prior to joining Hobbycraft on February 1st 2011 Marshall was at Pets at Home, where she was Trading and Marketing Director. She had previously worked at the UK’s second largest grocer Asda in what has been a varied retail career which should stand her in good stead for the task ahead.

“At Pets at Home I was involved in trading, marketing and multichannel, covering the whole customer proposition – and now we’re focusing on renewing the customer proposition here,” she explains.

“Before that at Asda I was very much involved in the value side of retailing, which was all about price and service. These are key skills you need in any retail role.”

She admits that it is useful for the CEO of a company to have an affinity with the customers they are trying to attract, and the Hobbycraft boss fits the bill in this regard.

“We are dealing with a strongly female-biased customer group, and understanding your audience is absolutely imperative to the success of any retailer.

“I’ve got some strong female directors on the board at Hobbycraft, and there’s a good gender balance throughout the business’s management team.”

It could be argued that the ailing British high street would benefit from a retailer of Hobbycraft’s stature moving into town centres across the UK.

With young mothers and their children the new target audience, moving to the high street where they swarm every lunch time would seem like a natural fit for the business, but it is clear that out-of-town retail parks remain the company’s bread and butter for the foreseeable future.

“We want really high quality, high footfall retail parks where young mums are shopping - there is so much left of the UK we need to discover in our current format,” Marshall notes.

“There’s a two-to-three-year pipeline of new stores in out-of-town locations – and that has to be our focus right now.”

It is a strategy that Marshall is obviously excited about leading in the months ahead, and one that has all the hallmarks of a retailer confident about the future success of its business.

Published on Wednesday 01 June by Editorial Assistant

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