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How I got here: Wendy Liu, retail director, Browns

The retail director of luxury London independent Browns studied design but realised the shop floor was her forte

Wendy Liu

Wendy Liu: ‘You must be aware of how the customer group changes and be ready to adapt so, for example, we now have three Mandarin speakers working in store’

What does your typical week involve?

On Monday I review last week’s sales and get reports from managers across all our stores, which includes a snapshot of the week’s trade for each shop. We compile the reports and prepare to send the information out on Monday evening to buyers and managers across the business. On Tuesday the 12 managers meet with chief executive Simon Burstein to discuss the report. This is followed by a trade meeting with the buying team, which works across all our stores [Browns and Browns Focus on South Molton Street, and Browns on Sloane Street] with the exception of Browns Bride [on Hinde Street, Marylebone]. Monday is about gathering information and Tuesday is focused on finding ways to be more productive.

From the trade meeting we talk about what’s working really well, for example identifying the bestselling brands or labels we might need to push in order to increase sales. From here we work out a strategy for visual merchandising or any promotions that might be needed.

I believe you have to be close to the action to really see what’s going on, so I spend as much time as possible on the shop floor in each of our stores as I believe it’s the best way to get to know our clients. Obviously, this has to coincide with my regular meetings across all the departments of our business.

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

In luxury fashion customer groups vary. For instance, in the last couple of years the Chinese market has really emerged. You must be aware of how the customer group changes and be ready to adapt so, for example, we now have three Mandarin speakers working in store.

You also have to consider what’s going on with social media and how you’re promoting your store in different ways. Browns attracts a broad audience online, but lots of our customers still like to visit the store.

How is the growing influence of social media affecting your role?             

It really does affect my role. All our Chinese clients use the free messaging app WeChat, while lots of customers from Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong are also online. We find our clients in mainland China use WeChat heavily, so we communicate with them using voice notes and pictures. Clients from other countries are more prone to use live messaging apps such as Line or WhatsApp.

We have to be aware of our customers’ needs and react to all different methods of social media. So, for example, if you were to WhatsApp a Chinese client they actually might not respond as well because they are much more comfortable using WeChat. You get to know these things from experience of dealing with clients.

We have more than 100,000 followers on Instagram, meaning lots of customers use our feed to find out what’s coming into store. This is something that has changed with time. In the past we would get a new collection in and then call the clients.

The Instagram account isn’t run by the press office but by the shop floor teams who take store shots showing real product. Our social media approach really helps to attract younger customers to Browns Focus, which is the ‘younger brands’ store in the Browns group, located on London’s South Molton Street.

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

I always knew I wanted to go into luxury fashion, so I would say don’t give up and you’ll eventually get there. I think when you’re younger you worry and ask ‘Is this the right way for me?’ But you just have to follow your instinct. If you have any knock-backs I think they will eventually be made up for when you succeed.

What have you got wrong and how have you learnt from it?

When I first got into junior management I was a bit of a perfectionist and wanted my hands on everything because I trusted myself. However, when you act like this you end up doing everything yourself. You end up forgetting to trust your team to do things for you. I realised you need to take a step back to prioritise, delegate and then double-check. This is how things run smoothly.

Who in the industry do you aspire to emulate?

You might think I have to say this because I work here, but Browns founder Joan Burstein (Mrs B). She’s amazing because she’s all business and all heart. I think that balance is so hard to strike. She doesn’t ask for respect, but the respect is there because of what she has built.

Mrs B sees the big picture, but understands every single detail as well. She stays close to the action so she knows how the Browns empire is doing, which I admire as owners can be quite hands off. You see her pick up a piece of clothing and talk about the garment as if it’s from her own wardrobe.

What key skills would you say you need to acquire to move up the career ladder?

You really need to be determined and have that drive to succeed. As a director it is very much about having an eye for detail, while also looking at the big picture. You can never let anything slip. Aside from this, I think it’s important if you can spot talent. At Browns we need to have the best customer service; if we don’t have this everything falls by the wayside.

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

I’ve done the creative thing and studied design, but to be honest retail is my forte. I enjoy the business side and getting to work across different departments. So if I wasn’t a retail director, I would be love to run my own boutique, because working with Mrs B has shown me how satisfying it is to see your clients happy.

CV

2014 Retail director, Browns

2012 Senior retail manager, Browns

2008 Store manager, Browns, Sloane Street

2007 Department manager, MaxMara at Harvey Nichols, London

2005 Store manager, Jigsaw, The Strand, London

2000 Sales associate, supervisor and assistant manager, Jigsaw, The Strand, London

2000-03 BA (Hons) Fashion Design Womenswear, Central Saint Martins

Readers' comments (1)

  • Great advice Wendy. Lovely to see success by putting the focus on the shopper and sales floor. Also, great to hear shop floor teams getting heavily involved in social media plans. What a good idea.

    Joan sounds a great role model.

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