5 Minutes With Kenneth Webb, CEO, Ulster Weavers

Home textiles retailer and heritage brand Ulster Weavers recently acquired giftware brand LoveOlli as part of the company's wider expansion plans. Based in Holywood, Northern Ireland, the Retail Gazette caught up with chief executive Kenneth Webb to find out more.

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Kenneth Webb

Congratulations on acquiring LoveOlli! What brought it about?

After spending some considerable time researching how to expand Ulster Weavers, one of the recommendations our in-house think tank suggested was the expansion into home fragrance, stationery and toiletries.

Having had connections with Olive McCaughan, the creator of LoveOlli, we knew this was the perfect type of business we were looking for. Discussions with Olive eventually led to the acquisition of the brand and re-employing Olive to run the brand for us. After all, she is its heart and soul.

How will this benefit Ulster Weavers?

The LoveOlli brand will increase our exposure to both new customers and consumers, and through joining this brand to our two own brands, Ulster Weavers and Story Horse, we hope to strengthen our brand position in the home.

In what ways do you think the Northern Irish retail sector is different to the rest of the UK?

The retail scene in Northern Ireland is very brand-focused, always looking either for well-established brands or up and coming brands.

They are always open to something new, while always being price conscious.

Are there plans to expand Ulster Weavers or LoveOlli further beyond the UK?

We have a strong European market and a rapidly growing US market. The Asian, Australian and New Zealand markets are also up and coming.

Our existing worldwide setup will be a perfect platform to further the LoveOlli brand globally.

Describe your role and responsibilities as CEO of Ulster Weavers, Story Horse & LoveOlli.

My ultimate role and responsibility is to lead the executive and management teams to deliver our promise to the shareholders.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your background before Ulster.

Ulster Weavers is part of a larger family organisation called the John Hogg Group. I have worked in the group for 25 years.

I have worked in the travel industry, coal industry and the fuel oil industry before moving into Ulster Weavers, firstly in the fabric division and now as CEO of the homewares Division.

I am also CEO of our travel company and a main board director of the John Hogg Group.

What got you into the retail sector in the first place?

My move into the retail sector came as a John Hogg Group strategic management decision.

For the previous six years, when I worked in the fabric division, we were seen as a “component” supplier to the final consumer product, and therefore you are one step away from dealing with consumers.

Throughout my career I have always been in touch with the consumer, and working with customers and consumers is fun and enjoyable. To see your product give customers so much fun and enjoyment is extremely fulfilling and this is why part of our brand strap-line is “we brighten the lives of those around us”.


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How has your previous experience aided you today?

Through my career I have been exposed to many different working challenges and had a diverse set of training programs all of which have assisted me in my role at Ulster Weavers.

Having been exposed to customers and consumers domestically, nationally and internationally has helped me understand what to look for in customer expectation, but the most important experience I have gained and brought to Ulster Weavers is working in, with and leading a team of people to deliver to customer expectation.

What is the most challenging aspect of your job?

Trying to stay ahead of the market. Our market changes quickly, be that in product, design or even consumer expectation and confidence. These are the challenges Ulster Weavers faces on a day to day basis.

And the most rewarding?

Seeing and hearing the delight and satisfaction our products bring to our customers.

How is Ulster/LoveOlli addressing some of the challenges facing the UK high street as a whole?

By being as flexible as possible and providing as much newness and change to entice the consumer into store.

Can you talk about any other projects you’re working on at the moment?

All I will say for now is we are continuing our strategy of developing our collection for the home.

What advice would you give someone who is considering embarking on a career in retail?

Be as flexible as possible to your customer requirements.

What would you say is the biggest risk for the retail sector, given the current climate?

Consumer confidence.

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