Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The Big Interview: John Colley, Managing Director at Majestic Wine

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Regal, refined or “majestic” are terms often used in the world of fine wine. 

So it’s no wonder that connoisseurs and customer service have become the focus points for the growth of Britain’s largest specialist wine retailer, Majestic Wine, as it proceeds along Rowan Gormley’s five-year development plan.

At the forefront of this stands managing director John Colley, who is responsible for Majestic’s entire 211-store estate. He came into the business last September, at a time when it was already three months into its development plan. Majestic made clear that the appointment would not alter its direction, but speaking to Retail Gazette, Colley seemed more than happy with his new role.

Objectively speaking, Colley’s appointment may seem strange, as the majority of his career up to this point has been in the home & DIY sector. He admitted “people think of me as a DIY retailer”, but during his time with Argos, Kingfisher and B&Q he was active in not only managing business estates but also in developing multichannel capabilities. This experience is valuable, and hardly niche in today’s retail world.

After returning to the UK following his tenure at Praxis Netherlands, “a couple of options” were open to Colley. He said Majestic Wine stuck out for a number of reasons.

“It just ticked a lot of boxes: great category, business and brand, and a big change program,” Colley said.

He also highlighted the added bonus that “if you work in retail, you’re always going to be a wine lover”.

According to Colley, Gormley’s position as chief executive was another big reason for his joining the group, describing him as a “successful and driven entrepreneur”.

Gormley was appointed CEO of Majestic after it purchased Naked Wines, of which he was the founder and which boasted a digital offering with the potential to transform Majestic’s ecommerce platform. Early into his appointment he said Majestic had excellent growth prospects, but his plan nonetheless drastically reduced targets for new store openings. 

This may seem safe in terms of sustainable investment, though reduced expansion can lessen prospective profits, not to mention leave unsettled areas open for rivals. There is also the issue that it could put too much pressure on existing stores to perform.

“Not at all – it’s all about return,” Colley replied, insisting that Majestic’s current estate already gives “pretty good coverage” of the country.

“The goal for the future is to grow our customer base, which has been happening, and those customers we’ve had in the past coming back more frequently.”

Calling improved customer loyalty an “opportunity, going forward”, Colley stressed the importance of maintaining and encouraging the best staff to maximise patron satisfaction. This required a shapeup of existing policies, which Colley admitted had led to Majestic “losing staff for a whole host of reasons”.

We’ve made great progress in giving staff the recognition that they deserve. They get rewarded and feel like they’re on a winning team,” he said.

Numbers of staff departures have slowed down significantly over the last few months. Certain managers at Majestic’s peculiarly named “Jedi-stores” even have the authority to run their outlets with more of an entrepreneur-like angle, implementing their own ideas with minimal micromanagement, and receiving recognition in return that encourages them to stay on.

“I think just having the empowerment to do things themselves in a whole host of areas such as recruiting their own teams, contacting customers directly, being practical about how they communicate – those simple empowerment initiatives had a

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