Big Interview: Chris Chalmers, Marketing Director, Studio

Since its re-branding from Express Gifts in early April, Studio has quickly become the biggest brand in the Findel plc group. Marketing director Chris Chalmers chats with Retail Gazette about his role since he took the helm last August.

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Chris Chalmers Studio

Chris Chalmers joined Studio as marketing director just as it began its re-branding process – something he says has become a career highlight.

Chalmers, who joined Findel-owned ecommerce site last August, tells Retail Gazette that he has bounced between the leisure and retail industries. Career highlights include grocery marketing manager at Big 4 leader Tesco and general manager at low cost airline Jet2. He says the types of challenges within each sector have been different.

Speaking on Studio’s position in the UK market, Chalmers says it is “a much smaller business” compared to previous firms he has worked with, but “it’s probably one of the biggest businesses that isn’t so well known or known at all, ironically”.

“Over two million customers are shopping with us every year so it’s quite sizeable actually,” he explains.

“Over 75 per cent of all orders were placed online last year. I joined the business having never heard of it.

“I joined with the task of re-branding to refresh and modernise the way we present ourselves to customers to really reflect our digital ambition.”

“I joined the business having never heard of it”

In early April, Studio completed a rebranding scheme that effectively marked an end to the Express Gifts brand, which it was formally known as.

“Its heritage is in cards and gifts, which is why it was called Express Gifts for such a long time,” Chalmers tells Retail Gazette.

“But essentially on a corporate level, we didn’t believe that Express Gifts really reflected what we stood for in today’s marketplace, hence why we moved into a new position – Studio Retail – which is what we felt is more representative of what we are about – which is retail.”

Chalmers says Studio is more of a value retailer rather than a fast fashion retailer, and currently competes with the likes of George at Asda, Primark, and Argos.

“We’re transitioning from a discounter into a value retailer. As the market dictates, clearly retail is quite tough at the moment,” he says.

“Our customers shop within a number of other retailers – we’re aware of that.”

Chalmers goes on to highlight how Studio operates two brands: Studio and Ace.

“Ultimately, they are one in the same in terms of the products that we sell,” he explains.

“Ace is just a bit of a legacy brand and tends to have an older demographic shopping with us.”

Chalmers adds that the beauty of value retail is being able to show warmth to customers, something “Aldi and Lidl are doing a great job” at.

“It’s really important that we show our brand’s personality”

“It’s really important that we show our brand’s personality. We try to show consumers that we don’t take ourselves too seriously, but equally we offer fantastic value,” he says.

“If you can demonstrate the value – which is a combination of the price and the quality – then discounters are at an advantage.”

Chalmers’ most recent retail-centric role involved working as digital marketing director at grocery giant Asda until 2017.

“It was northern based and it felt like a good option to move to, so I joined them and was tasked with driving all the digital activities for their online businesses, such as George.com,” Chalmers reflects.

“I was able to bring quite a lot of value. My responsibilities widened whilst I was there as we brought together the marketing functions of both the online and multi-channel business, and the store’s business.”

Meanwhile, Studio’s legacy as a catalogue retailer is nearly 100 years old.

It prides itself on its heritage in gifting and cards, which Chalmers says “has morphed over time in to a multi-range multi-category retailer”.

“We don’t take ourselves too seriously, but equally we offer fantastic value”

Studio is also known for its free personalisation feature, which Chalmers says is a growing trend in retail as a whole.

“It’s even stretching into fashion”, he adds, referring to Primark’s new personalisation feature in its denim collection.

“We’re not there yet, our personalisation factor is still very much in gifting, but there’s more room to grow in that space.”

When speaking on Studio’s future, Chalmers says he plans to drive growth, and one way of doing this is by launching an app, which is currently in the pipeline for this summer.

However, he admits he is wrestling with the debate of whether retailers nowadays should abolish their catalogue divisions and solely rely on online.

“There will always be a role for some level of paper contact, a few ecommercers have invested in some sort of paper product,” he says.

Chalmers also believes ecommerce allows customers to “unlock more content”.

“We know that consumers like to research a little bit – a catalogue can only work so hard in what it can deliver,” he says.

“The trick is how do we bring the worlds together.”

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