Tony Sheridan, managing director of Craft Retail discusses being one of the key players in the industry and how independent retailers shouldn’t fear big retailers
Tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to be in your current role as managing director of craft retail at ideal shopping? I spent 11 years at Manchester United, alas not as a footballer but in merchandising and brand management. However, I did play in goal for the staff team and had the opportunity to play at Old Trafford and Wembley several times. I arrived at Ideal Shopping via the acquisition of my company in 2006, Superstore TV. This company is now called Ideal Sourcing and is responsible for all of our new product development via our UK, Asia and US offices. Since my arrival in 2006, I have progressed in the business and have taken seat in the following roles: head of buying for Ideal World; group trading director and as part of the management by objectives in 2011, I took a seat on the Ideal shopping board as commercial director. In 2014, I became the managing director of Craft Retail, the division that houses Create and Craft, Deramores Retail, Craft Channel Production, Ideal Sourcing and our newly established US business.
You juggle a lot of different hats across many companies, what is your favourite part of the job? It is too hard to select just one…”] so I’ll pop for three. The first would be people – in our business I’ve the opportunity to work with a great team, a variety of partners from designers, innovators, business owners, manufacturers and of course our fantastic customers. Then there’s my passion for products; I’ve been in product and brand throughout my career and finding or developing a new item is electric. I’m very fortunate to work in a business that has product innovation every day. And my third is variety; no two days are the same.
You are the head of a massive craft corporation and one of smaller craft retailers’ biggest fears is big companies like yours. What do you say to this and should they be scared? I hear this a lot and I see things slightly differently. This market survives on newness. Many innovators and product owners have great ideas, but it is not always viable to bring these products to market. We give many the opportunity to do that and intern feed the market. By virtue of working with us, we do a number of things:
■ Enable production due to our volume
■ Drive creativity and newness
■ Create awareness and market demand
■ Educate the customer
We know from several studies that our activities drive footfall to stores, as many consumers still want the ‘touchy-feely’ experience. If I take paper crafts as an example, wherever I go – UK, Germany or the US – retailers are saying papercraft is in decline. We see the complete opposite and I know that brands that feature on our channels are, in the main, enjoying growth too. Not just with us, but in bricks-and-mortar retail as well. Why? Because we are constantly delivering newness, the consumer craves it. If a sales person comes into your store and mentions that their product has been on Create and Craft, don’t automatically say “no way”, consider the visibility that the product has already had. Retailers all over the world demand ‘As Seen on TV’ products, they see the link from exposure to demand. We are not the enemy!
What are your thoughts on the state of the high street and do you believe it can be saved? I feel that the high street is savable but it needs to rethink the whole customer experience. The street needs to become a sociable environment. Out-of-town retailers, online retailers – they are functional, a shopper goes there for a purpose. The high street has to attract shoppers by offering a relaxing and sociable experience. Family time, time with friends – this needs to be reflected in stores, how they can welcome the shopper and how they interact from a social point of view.
How important is omnichannel and multichannel in today’s retail environment and do retailers understand this? An omni-channel approach is the right and best way forward in this world of platform convergence and heightened customer expectation, but I’m often asked what the difference is between multi and omni channel.
A multichannel strategy allows customers to use the channel they prefer. Multichannel is an operational perspective, it describes how the
customer moves from one channel to the next and what they can do on the various platforms.
Omnichannel, however, is focusing on the experience through the eyes of the customer. Placing the customer at the centre of everything, and building the customer experience across all available channels for it to be seamless, fast, integrated and consistent. Omnichannel anticipates that and move to another as they progress to a resolution. Making these complex handshakes between channels must be a fluid experience for the user.
- Multichannel – Your view of how the customer engages cross channel.
- Omnichannel – The customers view of how they want to engage cross channel.
So whether you have a store and/ or a website, an app, advertise in magazines or sell at shows, you must be consistent on how the consumer sees your brand. High street and online can co-exist, but be aware that price does not have to the differentiator. Play to strengths of the platform you operate on.
You sit on the board for the CHA-US and CHA-UK what does this role mean to you and what do you hope to achieve? As a board member on the US and UK board, I’m passionate about the overall objective, developing the overall creative market place. John F Kennedy, once said, “a rising tide floats all boats”, this is something I believe in and something CHA is committed to. It can be strange sat around a table with your competitor, but we have to leave our own company bias at the door, as directors we have to act with the overall industry in mind I would encourage any business, however big or small, to join and help deliver the objective. The CHA team in the UK are excellent. Recently we held the One Big Show a conference full of education, not just on product, but great insight into how to develop your business and compete in the market place. Everyone agreed it was a ground breaking event and it was thoroughly enjoyed by all.
If you could give retailers one piece of advice, what would it be? This point is for any independent retailer. Focus on your community opportunity and not so much on major online retailers, or indeed ourselves. Using fi ndings from the CHA-UK research there are 17.1 million crafters/makers/sewers/bakers to name a few, in your communities. Look at a local map and draw a circle fi ve miles around your store – this should be your catchment zone. Understand local advertising opportunities, engage with clubs and workshops, and if there isn’t anything going on then set one up and engage with local schools and colleges. Also, tune your products or promotions in-line with TV. If The Great British Bake Off is on promote your lines that are relevant. Once you have done that, draw a larger circle, but never forget the core community. Being a crafter is in vogue, there is no better time for customers to engage and start crafting, and don’t forget to concentrate on the differentiation that you can bring to the customers.
What are your future plans for developing craft retail at Ideal Shopping? A year ago, we launched Craft Extra on Sky and Freesat and the plan for the next 12 months is to expose more niche crafts on this channel. We want to make these fashionable again and fuel the market demand. Our knitting and sewing businesses Deramores.com and Sew.co.uk, will be introducing more education, while expanding their product ranges throughout the year. We will be developing cake, via our recent acquisition and we hope to start driving innovation in this market, turning the cake trends from not only customer participation, but also active product purchasing. There are some exciting product developments coming for 2015. We are currently working on a path for these to make it on the retailers’ shelves too, for the reason that there still is a demand on the high street, as well as through our own channels. The big one is the upcoming launch of Create and Craft in the United States. This is a major initiative and one not being taken lightly. We know we will have stiff competition, but it’s like my advice in one of the above questions. We need to be sure of our differentiators and live by them; it’s the only way to compete with bigger groups. This time we are the little fish, but we know we have an opportunity.
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