Tell us a bit about yourself and your background before Hobbs.
After qualifying with KPMG, I’ve had the good fortune to work for globally-recognised apparel brands like Levi’s, Esprit and Mexx in both the US and Europe. Every opportunity was unique and added to my skill set.
What got you into the retail sector in the first place?
My love of clothing got me into retail – from my first job with Topman as a Saturday sales assistant at age 17.
Describe your role and responsibilities as Hobbs’ chief financial officer.
In addition to finance, IT and logistics, I’m also responsible for driving the online business.
Any reflections on the past six months since you were appointed to the role?
When the results of the referendum were announced, I realised that the challenges ahead were going to be magnified. I joined a month later in July 2016 and it has been non-stop ever since. The hard work is paying off and we’re well-positioned to navigate the retail head-winds in the UK.
How has your previous experience aided your current job?
Having experience working with PE firms and lenders in the apparel space allowed me to hit the ground running. In addition to my US experience, which has been very helpful as we are seeing phenomenal growth over there, my experience in performance marketing and ecommerce has made me uniquely positioned to head up the online business.
What is the most challenging aspect of your job?
Limiting the number of meetings I’m in during the day.
And the most rewarding?
Being very results-focused, I got a lot of satisfaction from delivering against a plan that we created when I joined.
Can you talk about any upcoming projects at Hobbs that you’re working on at the moment?
Not specifically, but I can say that I’ve never been busier and see an exciting future.
What do you think of the current state of fashion retail?
I think retailers that measure performance by traditional metrics such as footfall and sales generated at location will continue to be challenged.
Instead, they need to develop a clear understanding of their customer and view stores and online as a seamless service. Retailers that view online as an after-thought will start to become extinct.
Similarly, we need to reconsider the role of the store and reconsider the metrics by which we measure performance. Brands that value their customers, design product around their needs and allow them to shop in a channel agnostic way.
How has Hobbs adapted to the challenges that the fashion sector has faced?
Hobbs was an early adopter of click-and-collect and we have just opened up store inventory to online demand (fulfill-from-store) where we see strong results.
However, where we see us being behind is in the area of content and customisation. Both of these are areas of focus for us going forward as we further develop our omnichannel proposition. We’ve been pleased with our progress to date, with our e-commerce platform providing double-digit growth year on year.
What would you say is the biggest risk for the retail sector, given the current climate?
The impact of FX on costs and the resulting inflationary pressures will impact consumer wallets and consumers’ confidence. Under these pressures, I expect to see consumers shift away from fashion or one-season items towards classic and investment pieces. Additionally, the competitive landscape is crowded and we will see some brands disappear. All of these elements create opportunity for Hobbs.
What advice would you give someone who is considering embarking on a career in retail?
I would always advise someone to follow their passion. If it’s retail, then find a good training ground and build your experience.
Thanks for your time. Any last words?
I’m particularly excited by our international expansion. Our successful entry into the US demonstrates the importance of a seamless multichannel strategy when entering (and growing) in a new market. We have expanded with concessions in Bloomingdales into Florida and anticipate California to follow shortly; have seen strong growth of ecommerce by using localised websites; and we recently launched our first US solus store, in Greenwich to further strengthen brand awareness and accessibility.
Overall, it’s been a great start to my time at Hobbs, working with an inspirational and effective management team. Whilst the business has faced difficulties in the past, it’s immensely satisfying to see the improvements that have already come to fruition and exciting to see such a clear trajectory for further growth.