Q&A: Michael Artis, Director at 20.20

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2018 will see strategic design consultancy 20.20 celebrate 30 years. Here, director Michael Artis reflects on his career and shares his thoughts on what the future of retail will look and feel like.  

RF. What’s your background?
MA. Like most teenagers, I had a weekend job working in shops. I worked at Asda, WHSmiths and an independent sports store. I particularly enjoyed the latter as I was inspired by seeing the entrepreneurial spirit behind it and the importance of getting the sale right. I kind of knew at that stage that I wanted to continue working in retail. I went to Bournemouth Uni to do a BA in Retail Management, at the time was sponsored by M&S. After graduating with a first, I joined B&Q’s head office in Southampton. I was lucky enough to work under the then controller of merchandising, Simon House (now group head of merchandising concepts at Kingfisher PLC. Somehow I earned his belief and trust, and he gave me a lot of freedom to be involved in various projects and made a point of having the right managers who would continually push me out of my comfort zone. My five or so years there was an amazing grounding for which I will never be able to fully repay – I was extremely lucky. In 2006, I moved agency-side and joined 20.20 as a strategist where my ‘real’ practical experience from B&Q, plus my degree skill, could be tested across many sectors, clients and challenges. One of my first clients was Mecca Bingo, which obviously didn’t fit into the world of retail, but again could not have been more of a perfect start. I remember being sent to Scotland for three days on my own to see how Mecca could adapt following the introduction of the smoking ban. I instantly felt like that 15-year-old again, trying to sell trainers to grown-ups in the sports shop.

RF. What drew you to 20.20?
MA. The switch from client-side to consultancy intrigued me and I liked the fact that 20.20 recognised the benefits of me having first-hand experience of customer focused strategy. We had shared values in humility, collaboration and customer-first thinking – something a lot of people say, but still is too rarely seen. I also liked the fact that the client base is varied but the core focus remains the same – it’s all about the customer. You have to know the customer inside out. If you assume, you fail. It’s as simple as that. It was exactly the type of thing I loved doing at uni – and here I am given the opportunity to do it in real life, and be paid for it!

RF. Can you describe a typical day in your role as director?
MA. Fast, uncharted, scary and wonderful. Basically, there’s no typical day. We’re a team of 24(ish) people and we’re all very much hands-on. There’s not really the luxury of delegation as such and that’s fine – we’re all involved, and that’s how we all get better. It means we’re always spinning plates but the direct and involved approach means we’re constantly growing our people too. At 20.20, we back talent and it’s part of my job to work with our team to inspire confidence to climb, and not worry too much about the size of the mountain. It’s about creating an environment where everyone can say what they want and is given a chance to shine. Humility is hugely important to me, and when we get to the top, the views are amazing…and then we go again. Part of the role is a balancing act too as I need to offer insight but not dominate. It’s important that the team is given space, so I’m looking for a healthy collaboration – that means being aware when to back off too – which I hope I am getting better at. Our MD Jim Thompson, is another great example of how to inspire, inform, stress test, but essentially allow the team of individuals involved to discover and decide what ‘the right’ action to take needs to be. The other vital side of the role is to ensure our clients are with us on the journey. The best results are achieved when clients explore and discover with us. At 20.20, we’re rubbish if you need to be told what the answer is, we also are pretty poor lapdogs. We need clients who want to be involved and bring their skill in the room too. We don’t forget, the client is the ultimate expert on themselves, so are crucial to the whole process if we’re going to change a culture, brand identity or customer experience.

RF. What are you working on at the moment?
Everything from helping a football club to redefine their match-day experience for fans, an electricals business understanding what omni-channel means for it’s HQ and store teams, through to developing a new approach to sell vodka. High street names such as Maplin and ODEON sit alongside emerging and global brands – the link; we work with all of these if they want to change and make the experience for the people they serve, better.

RF. What does the future of retail look and feel like to you?
MA. A year ago, I would’ve said we’re starting to see the retail and leisure sectors merging. Now, the word is ‘merged’. Shops have changed into one of three things; they’re either support hubs (think convenience, click and collect, tech support etc), social spaces (the customer’s ‘third’ space) or status spaces (brand flagships). These are the things retailers and brands that need an experience are all embracing and, to put it bluntly, if you’re going to survive then you need to become one of those three things – or all of them combined. If they aren’t already, retailers need to be asking themselves ‘what do I want my shop to become?’ If we take the elements I just mentioned, Three Mobile is doing Support really well. The Social space concept is epitomised by Rapha and its club-house mentality for its cycling community, and the likes of Uniqlo New York and Lego continue to offer a great example of Status spaces. Remember, it’s about so much more than shop design though – it has to be effective. The future of retail is in the merging of these three elements. It’s about being progressive rather than doing it just for show; creating spaces where people feel they belong. It’s the type of thing Nike Town London did well back in the day.

RF. What’s next for 20.20?
MA. 2018 is our 30th year so it will be an exciting one. I think there will be a notable shift in the type of work we do. It will be less pure-play retailers and more of those with a retail/brand/leisure mix. We will continue to understand the motivations for change and then empower that change, engaging with the brands that are brave. The UK in post-Brexit era will be a challenge but we will carry the British spirit, work hard and rise through the period of uncertainty. We’ll make things better for our business and our clients.

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