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Bluewater's senior retail manager Kate Crowe on how she built her retail career

The growth of in-store technology means life is never boring for Bluewater’s senior retail manager.

Kate Crowe

Kate Crowe

What does your typical week involve?

In my role as senior retail manager I’m responsible for the commercial performance of 330 retail tenants. I manage a team of four people who, like me, are all ex-retailers. It makes a big difference having worked in retail because we understand the pressure our tenants are under and can share insight on how to help them maximise their performance.

We liaise with retailers on a daily basis to make sure we are doing everything to meet their needs. For example, we work closely with the design team on plans for new stores that will open in Bluewater or advise independents on different techniques they can use to maximise their space.

I also liaise with head office, providing analysis to our asset and portfolio team on which retailers are performing well, which helps inform their leasing terms.

As part of Bluewater’s senior leadership team, I contribute to long-term strategic planning. So in any given week I refer to the five-year plan to see what actions are needed to help Bluewater evolve. This could, for example, mean supporting a retailer on the development of a new ‘statement’ store. Outside London lots of UK and international fashion retailers, like Victoria’s Secret, Topshop and Superdry, have statement stores in Bluewater. By statement store, we mean the latest representation of the brand in terms of store concept, technology and layout.

How do you feel your role is changing as the industry evolves?

The rise of in-store technology has been the biggest shift I’ve experienced over the past couple of years. iPads are a great tool as they give store assistants a wider view of all stock, which is becoming even more crucial as shoppers now expect retailers to be able to provide the product they want when they want it.

Over the past three years, click-and-collect has grown massively. My team analyses the latest trends in consumer behaviour to help retailers meet this demand. We also share insight with the marketing teams to make sure the Bluewater website reflects the different services our retailers provide. We need to make sure we have click-and-collect signage in place to inform shoppers where they can go to pick up their garments.

Our analysis of consumer behaviour also helps us decide if we need to develop new services or technology for the centre as a whole. For example, we now offer Wi-Fi and mobile charging units throughout Bluewater because we realised shoppers were browsing on their mobiles in-store. For peak periods like Christmas we’ve armed our concierges with iPads so they can serve shoppers quicker and cut down the queues.

What have you got wrong and how did you learn from it?

In my early career I think I took on too much, so I needed to learn to take a step back and focus on what would add real value to the business. You can’t go far if you only focus on what you need to do. It’s important to collaborate with colleagues working outside your own role to deliver what really matters to the business.

If you could change one thing about your career path, what would it be?

I feel like, timing-wise, everything has worked out right. I deliberately chose to work in-store when perhaps I could have gone into a management role sooner, because I knew that working on the shop floor would help me understand a successful business from the ground up.

Even though I always wanted to be in a strategic role in a management team, working across a number of different positions from human resources to store management has given me a wider perspective of the industry I would not have had otherwise.

That being said, it would have been interesting to work for a retailer like Selfridges with a strong identity that is constantly seeking to challenge itself.

Who in the industry do you aspire to emulate?

Former Burberry chief executive Angela Ahrendts. Using her strong leadership skills, Ahrendts led Burberry through a growth period because she had a clear idea of what a brand needs to be and how to translate that into a successful business. I also admire the fact she was willing to step outside her comfort zone in the fashion industry into the world of technology.

What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

Go for it, be brave and be confident. It’s a good idea to identify somebody within the business you can learn from, even if they work in a different sector. Take as many opportunities as possible to learn new skills, even if at the time you don’t realise how important those skills will be.

Also, take accountability for your own development – no one will hand you your next move on a plate.

What are the key skills needed to keep progressing up the career ladder?

To keep progressing in management I think it’s important to continue to network within the fashion industry, as well as step outside it to understand what’s happening in other sectors. Taking a broader perspective helps you realise what you need to do to succeed. Aside from networking opportunities, industry conferences and events provide an invaluable source of information.

If you could work in another area of fashion, what would it be?

I really like variety in a job, so I would probably enjoy designing new stores, deciding on the right locations and rolling out new store concepts nationwide. I could see myself working for a department store, as I would be able to decide how all the different departments would work together.

 CV

2013 Senior retail manager, Bluewater shopping centre, Kent

February 2010 Retail liaison manager, Bluewater shopping centre, Kent

May 2007-2010 Store manager, Mango, Regent Street

August 2006-April 2007 Project manager to retail people director, Asda Leeds

February-August 2006 Clothing, footwear and jewellery manager, Asda Bristol

August-October 2005 Project manager secondment, Morrisons acquisition, Northern Ireland, Asda

March 2005-Feb 2006 HR deputy people manager, Cribbs Causeway, Asda Bristol

March 2004-March 2005 Customer service manager, Cribbs Causeway, Asda Bristol

2003 Three-year graduate management training retail programme, Asda

2000-2003 BSc (Hons) Business Management, Cardiff Business School

2000-2002 Part-time sales assistant, ladies denim, House of Fraser, Cardiff

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