Big Interview: Paul Kendrick, CEO, Studio

Paul Kendrick, who was promoted to CEO of Studio earlier this year, on how the online retailer increased its technology investment to accelerate its transformation scheme amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Studio CEO Paul Kendrick profile interview Findel Express Gifts
Paul Kendrick.

Since its rebranding from Express Gifts in early April last year, Studio has quickly become the biggest brand in the Studio Retail Group – itself rebranded from Findel.

Paul Kendrick joined Studio as commercial and deputy managing director in May 2016 before being promoted to managing director in April 2017, and was appointed to the board in December 2019.

He took the helm of the online retailer in July this year as a result of a structured development and succession plan implemented by the board working with both former chief executive Phil Maudsley and Kendrick.

Studio Paul Kendrick Findel Express Gifts covid-19 pandemic lockdown
Studio completed a rebranding scheme last year, marking an end to the Express Gifts brand.

Before Studio, Kendrick bounced between the travel and retail industries. Career highlights include head of business development at TUI Travel, head of strategic development (travel), customer, financial services and international director at N Brown, and most recently, marketing and multi-channel director at Bonmarche.

Speaking on Studio’s position in the UK market, he said it was “a much smaller business” compared to previous firms he has worked for, but gains over two million customers every year.

Kendrick said that when he joined Studio, around 50 per cent of the business was online as “nobody really understood online and the conversation was around the catalogue”. He said this now stood at 90 per cent, and he attributed this to his work in improving and modernising technology within the company. He also used data and technology across every aspect of the business to “make an informed decision on customer experience”.

“I wanted to put digital at the heart of everything we do. We went through a massive modernisation programme,” Kendrick told Retail Gazette.

Studio Paul Kendrick Findel Express Gifts covid-19 pandemic lockdown
Last year, Studio launched its app which now accounts for 20% of the business.

As Studio continues to grow, Kendrick said he plans to add positions within the data analytics team.

“We’ve increased our investment in technology to accelerate our transformation programme. We’re on a recruitment drive at the moment,” he said.

“We’ve had to match the sales growth, we’ve had to bring in people within the warehousing in the customer service functions.

“I wanted to put digital at the heart of everything we do”

“We have to do it in a way that still protects our colleagues. We’ve got 400 people in our warehouses, most of the head office functions are still open, and the warehouse is very well spread out.”

Last year, Studio launched its app which now accounts for 20 per cent of revenues for the online retailer.

Kendrick added that the Covid-19 pandemic accelerated the shift to online, with Studio witnessing older age customers now shopping with Studio.

“We’ve got some of the older customers, and we saw one of our segments called traditionalists, and they’ve adopted new technology,” he explained.

“A lot of what we’ve done in the last few years has put us in a really good position to survive and hopefully become a winner from the pandemic.

“The shift was in place when everybody started moving away from catalogues.”

Despite many retailers such as H&M and Argos scrapping their print catalogues, Studio continues to publish its catalogue. While it temporarily stopped producing them after the first UK-wide lockdown over spring, the retailer reinstated them as restrictions were lifted.

“We’ve reinstated most of our marketing activity, especially in this quarter, to build our customer base,” Kendrick said.

However, the catalogue system has been transformed in that it is now much more targeted. Kendrick said the smaller and more frequent publications will utilise data to personalise offerings for customers.

“What we’ve done in the last few years has put us in a really good position to survive Covid-19”

“Our catalogue offering is cheaper and easier than using a mailing system or advertising on Google,” he explained.

“It also gives people a nudge to say they can go online and continue browsing.”

Meanwhile, Kendrick said Studio was increasingly spending on TV marketing. Last year, it sponsored by ITV’s This Morning, and this year it has partnered with I’m a Celebrity.

“Peter Andre is currently on television wearing our pyjamas,” he laughed.

“Television is actually a great way to reach customers, particularly now that people are told to stay at home.

“The digital world is so important. It helps us raise brand awareness. People can go on to Google and if they type in ‘maxi dress’ for example, they will find us in the results.”

Kendrick said at least 40 per cent of Studio’s sales take place in October through to December – otherwise known as the “golden quarter. Using this as a springboard, he revealed his plans for Studio for the next five years – and this includes reaching a turnover of £500 million as the business doubles in size.

“To make this a billion pound business, we must increase our customer base from 2.1 million at the moment, to three million active customers,” Kendrick said.

“We also need to increase the amount of spend we get from customers by developing our categories and personalising offers.

“We’re constantly looking at how we create agility in the business, especially around our supply chain.

“One of the challenges that all retailers have got now is how to plan for next year.

“We don’t know what consumer trends are going to be, therefore we’ve got to be much more agile.”

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