5 Minutes With Vivien Godfrey, CEO & Chair, Stanfords

For this week's '5 Minutes With', Retail Gazette chats with Stanfords chief executive and chair Vivien Godfrey just as the iconic travel book and map retailer opened its brand new London flagship at 7 Mercer Walk.


Tell me about the Stanfords story.

Stanfords was established in 1853 at number 6 Charing Cross selling books, stationery and maps. Over the next decades it developed a reputation as the one place in London and possibly the whole world where you could buy any type of map or nautical chart that you might need.

Congrats on the new store in Mercer Walk! What was the reason behind the relocation from Long Acre?

Since 1853 Stanfords has occupied several different premises all near to Covent Garden. The Long Acre shop was our fifth home and now we are moving to 7 Mercer Walk, our sixth home.

The reason for relocating is really the same as the reason behind previous relocations. The current premises didn’t suit our evolving needs and we needed to move somewhere that was more suitable for the 21st century. Our new home is a lovely modern building and trading on two floors only will be more efficient than the three floors we trade on now.

How have you addressed concerns from fans about the move to Mercer Walk?

The biggest concerns from our fans have been to ask if we will offer the same wide range of products and whether we will have maps on the floor in the new shop. The answer to both of these questions is a resounding yes. We already have three new maps on the floor at Mercer Walk.

What gap in the UK retail market does Stanford strive to address?

Stanfords offers a venue to travellers and explorers to both fuel their imaginations and to gather detailed information for a forthcoming trip. There is no other UK retailer that has the range of products and staff knowledge to help customers find the maps and books that they need.

How is Stanfords’ business model different to competitors?

Stanfords is a specialist map and bookseller not a generalist bookshop. We offer a specialist range in our two shops in London and Bristol and on our website.

What’s in store for 2019?

We are focused on two things: first successfully completing our move from Long Acre to Mercer Walk and second, adding to our range of products and services both in-store and online.

How is Stanfords addressing some of the challenges facing the retail industry as a whole?

Every retailer has to keep their offer fresh and relevant and moving to a modern building with a brand new retail design is very important to us. In addition we are investing more in our web business.

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

The biggest risk in my view for the retail sector is consumers continuing to shift to shopping online. Like most other retailers, Stanfords offers consumers the option of shopping in a bricks-and-mortar shop and also online. But there could come a point when the shift to online is so great that running traditional shops will not be viable.

Stanfords buys quite a number of products from European countries and we are concerned about possible customs delays to those shipments. We will order a little extra stock from certain suppliers in February.

Describe your role and responsibilities at Stanfords.

Since March 2018 I have been the chair and chief executive of Stanfords. My role is set the strategy for the company and to provide the support and resources to our senior managers to execute our agreed strategies and tactics. I try hard not to be a micro manager and with the move happening I really do not have time to micro manage.

What got you into retail in the first place?

My first Saturday job when I was 14 was working in the Abacus bookshop in Pinner, north-west London. Then when I was 16 I worked during my summer holidays at Stanfords.

I was assigned to the basement in Long Acre which was the post room. I packed up maps to send to customers. Ironically, was not allowed to speak to customers.

Interestingly, my first job after university was at McKinsey and Company and my first boss was Archie Norman (who is now chairman of Marks & Spencer). I think he certainly contributed to my interest in retailing.

How has your previous experience aided your current job?

The greatest management challenge is managing the people. My past experience, especially at Diageo and my own business in Florida, have really provided the best experience in leading and motivating people.

What is the most challenging aspect of your job?

Trying to fit 24 hours of work into the 10 hours that I work most days.

And the most rewarding?

Meeting the publishers and authors and customers and talking to them about their travel experiences and their future travel dreams.

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

Take a weekend or holiday job to find out if you enjoy the retail environment. If you enjoy interacting with customers then retail might be for you. If you don’t enjoy speaking to and helping your customers then you might not want a career in retail.

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