The Business of Retail

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robert-outram By Robert Outram, CA Today

11 March 2019

The retail business may be facing its share of challenges right now, but it remains exciting and dynamic, with many rewards for a CA with the drive to succeed.

That was the message from the latest event in the ICAS Insights series, The Business of Retail, in association with Investec Wealth & Investment.

In the appropriate setting of the Forth Floor at Harvey Nichols Edinburgh, two CAs – Harvey Nichols’ Arti Modhwadia and Peter Wood of international fashion group AllSaints – shared what they had learned from their respective careers in retail.

Arti is a Commercial Finance Manager with Harvey Nichols, the luxury department store chain. Her love affair with retail goes back much further than that, however, to when she helped out at her parents’ toyshops in Blackpool.

Her CA training with EY mainly involved financial services experience, but retail was in her blood and she took a job with fashion retailer Phase Eight, before moving to Harvey Nichols.

Arti was initially brought in to support larger refurbishment projects, starting with the ground floor in Harvey Nichols’s iconic Knightsbridge store and more recently the International Womenswear floor. Her role however has evolved over the last few years which now includes managing the hedging strategy, cash flow management, international store roll out, and also working on projects such as the launch of Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty range.

Harvey Nichols is adapting to a changing marketplace by embracing online sales and creating new in-store customer experiences and events.

For a CA, Arti said, a career in retail means a fast moving environment in which your analysis will be supporting key decisions for the company. You’ll meet a wide range of people, and the perks are “amazing”, she added.

The devil is in the detail

Peter Wood, Chief Executive with AllSaints, posed a reasonable question: “How did a colour blind chartered accountant become the CEO of an international fashion business?”

He had initially joined AllSaints as Chief Financial Officer before becoming Chief Operating Officer in 2016 and Chief Executive this year. He stressed that success in retail is not all about crunching numbers, however: “The important KPI [key performance indicator] for me is this: do our 3,200 people around the world understand what we are trying to do and their part in it; and if they do an amazing job, do they feel that they’ll be rewarded?

“Feelings lead to actions, which lead to outcomes. So, getting to results is about dealing with feelings.”

The two key factors for a store’s success, Peter added, are first, great products, and second, a store manager who can motivate and organise the staff.

He acknowledged the importance of online sales but argued that we often think too much about labels like “online” and “in-store”. Basically, he argued, they are both mutually dependent means of distribution: often an online experience leads to an in-store purchase and vice versa.

Peter said: “Debating whether something is an online or an in-store transaction is ultimately pointless. The key is to focus on making it as easy as possible for the customer to get what they want, when they want it.  We need to be customer-focused, not channel-focused, because the same customer is shopping across a blend of channels and interactions with the brand.”

Arti and Peter both agreed that their CA training has helped them in their careers in retail.

Arti said: “My CA qualification, with the experience I’ve gained, has given me a good grounding for working in a commercial environment.”

Peter said that retail is a business in which data drives decisions on a daily or even hourly basis; a CA’s training and experience provide the ideal skills to analyse the data, and map out appropriate action. He added: “I would not be where I am without my CA qualification.”

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