Following the opening of The White Company's first store in the USA, Steve Morris, people & retail director, discusses plans for the brand's second US store, the brand's customer base and how the role of bricks and mortar stores has changed.
RF. What was your career path to becoming people & retail director at The White Company?
SM. I started in BHS working on the household and lighting departments at weekends. I was actually studying to be a baker when I got offered a trainee management course. I was running my first store at the age of 20 for Miss Selfridge and then went on to be general manager at one of GAP's flagship stores on Oxford Street. From there I moved into field roles at M&S and held a number of different positions before ending up in head office. I then went back out to the field and took a roll at Topshop/Topman as regional manager for the South. This then led to me being approached about the role at The White Company as retail director. I did this for three years and then was asked to do the people part alongside retail.
RF. What does your role involve?
SM. As people and retail director my role splits into three main areas. As mentioned the people part covers everything people related, from developing our attraction strategy to driving our comms and engagement plan. The retail part involves me creating the long-term growth strategy for our retail estate, whilst also ensuring our teams are developed and most importantly are delivering a great customer experience for our customers. My role also sees me spend a lot of time working alongside my colleagues on the operating board developing our long-term strategy for the business. It's such an exciting role which has so many different strands.
RF. Who is The White Company customer?
SM. The TWC customer covers such a wide range of classifications; of course we have our core 40+ customer who is shopping for herself, her home and her family, but we also have some other segments. Many young professionals enter the brand buying their first great quality bedlinens from us. We have a huge gifting business particularly with our fragrance and baby departments. I remember the first time I shopped the brand as a young man (many moons ago) buying my mum a winter candle for Christmas.
RF. What are you working on at the moment?
SM. Having just opened our first store in New York City a few weeks ago we are now straight onto getting ready for our second store in the USA which opens in Short Hills shopping center early November. We also have the relocation of our Guildford store to do, and will be opening in Kildare in October. Ive also just launched our new company culture at our leadership conference and the team and I are really busy supporting the business embedding these new values and behaviors. It's a really exciting time at the moment and with our new CEO Mary Homer starting I'm also working on creating a great first 100 days induction plan.
RF. You’ve just opened a new store in New York City, the first in the USA. Why was it important to have a presence in the USA and NYC specifically?
SM. After many years of talking about taking the plunge and having our first international store, we agreed about 18 months ago that the USA was the right market to do this in. New York was an obvious location for our first store. That said we launched our USA website three years ago and the results from this gave us a really strong positive indicator that the brand would work in the USA. This also gave us a great knowledge of where our customers live in the USA and what they were shopping before we opened.
RF. How do you feel the role of the bricks and mortar store has changed in recent years?
SM. Retail is always changing and this is just another period of time where the disrupters have made the bricks and mortars model evolve. Technological advances have made it much easier for us on many fronts. The web is clearly a factor that has diverted traffic, and the convenience factor that the web offers is clearly one of the things that makes this channel a preferred choice for many. That said the thing stores still offer and the area that I feel has had to evolve the most is the in-store experience. Our stores are sensory and customers love this element of the brand – touch, smell and inspire play such a key part for us and stores have really had to up their game to keep customers coming back in. The other element, and one I believe most important, is the human element; giving great customer service has never been so important and we have really focused on this over the past few years. Our staff do such an amazing job of building great relationships with our customers and many come back in every week because of this. It's a really key part that again bricks and mortar can offer that the web can't.
RF. What’s next for The White Company?
SM. The business has an exciting time ahead with our new CEO just starting and some pretty ambitious growth plans; the next five years is going to very busy. We have to move offices early next year so finding new office space is top of the list at moment. Our product teams also have some great new things in the pipeline and we have a few more new stores to open next year.