5 Minutes With Chris Webster, Managing Director, Oliver Sweeney

Since it was founded in 1989 Oliver Sweeney, the luxury menswear retailer known for its hand-crafted leather shoes, has built a loyal customer base. Keen to provide these customers with a platform to easily share their experiences to drive new customer acquisition, the brand launched a referral marketing campaign with Mention Me. Retail Gazette spoke to managing director Chris Webster to find out more.

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Oliver Sweeney managing director Chris Webster

Nice move with Oliver Sweeney launching a new referral marketing campaign. Can you describe what it entails?

Once customers try a pair of Oliver Sweeneys they never want to go back, resulting in high retention rates and many of our new customers discovering the brand through a referral from one of our existing customers.

The partnership with Mention Me is all about making it easier for our customers to tell their friends about the experience they’ve had with Oliver Sweeney and enabling us to say thank you to them when they do.

What does it mean for consumers?

Customers are able to recommend Oliver Sweeney by email, text or social media to their friends and their friends will then get a discount on their first purchase with Oliver Sweeney.

In addition, customers will receive a thank you from Oliver Sweeney for every customer that they recommend.

Has it yielded any interesting results yet?

It is still early days to tell but the initial results are positive. We have loyal customers who are passionate about the brand and love sharing the Oliver Sweeney secret with their friends.

Why are word-of-mouth referrals so important for Oliver Sweeney?

Mention Me is a personalised recommendation service and is the slickest referral program on the market right now.

Customers literally tell their friend to “use their name” at checkout to receive their discount – it’s the modern day equivalent of going to a fantastic local store and telling the store owner that you’ve come because one of your friends told you how great the store was.

We’re not re-inventing the wheel but we’re making word of mouth simple to achieve online. Given the passion our customers have for the brand, every new customer is a potential advocate, and simplifying the word of mouth process unlocks growth opportunities for us.

On a more broad scale, what ways can luxury retailers like Oliver Sweeney succeed in the UK’s challenging fashion market?

Customer needs and spending habits are changing whether as a result of Brexit or broader market trends.

It’s a truism but we believe that success is always going to come down to products that inspire, energise and delight customers combined with a shopping experience that makes each and every individual customer feel like a valued member of the Oliver Sweeney community.

Tell us a bit about your role as Managing Director.

I am responsible for running the commercial side of Oliver Sweeney. I spend a lot of time with our wholesale, retail and online teams looking at how we can continually improve the shopping experience across every touch point for our customers and with the marketing team finding opportunities to share the Oliver Sweeney experience with a wider audience.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your background before Oliver Sweeney.

I’ve been lucky to have had a wide range of experience leading digital and physical businesses for John Lewis and eBay. The highlights are similarly varied and I’ve always got a buzz researching, developing testing and ultimately launching a new business in the market whether that’s John Lewis’ partnership card, their At Home store or Cross Border Trade for ebay.

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

I’ve always loved customers, understanding what they buy, and why they shop where they do and how that experience can be improve week in week out. For me there’s nothing more satisfying than seeing a customer leave a store truly delighted that they’ve found the product that is just perfectly right for them.

What is the most challenging aspect of your job?

We have real time access to our sales figures and that’s a constant stress in the back of your mind. But as with any growing business the focus is always on cash and innovation. How much capital to invest and which innovations to prioritise to continue accelerating the business’ growth.

And the most rewarding?

I’m lucky in that my job is incredibly varied, no two days are ever the same. I love our focus on craftmanship, quality and detail and am always proud when a friend comments that they’ve had their Oliver Sweeneys for years. We try to create wonderful products that as well as being incredibly comfortable, inspire and excite its always rewarding when customers tell us how much they love our shoes.

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

We’ve just launched our first ladies collection which has been under development for over a year. It’s always a little nerve-wracking when you launch a new collection like this but I’ve been delighted at the positive response from customers and the broader market and we’re already looking forwards to expanding the range in early 2018

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

The essential is, as ever to pick something you’re passionate about. Retail is all about great product great service and ultimately happy customers. If you’re passionate about those retail could be the perfect career for you.

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

Uncertainty. Consumers don’t know what’s going to happen in the coming months and years and are changing their spending patterns as a result. Managing those changes is going to be key for all successful retails in the coming years.

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