Drapers gives you an exclusive sneak peak of our Close-Up interview with Shop Direct Group group retail director Gareth Jones, ahead of the full interview in this weekend’s edition.
You began your career in banking, before winning professional reality show Trouble at the Top– a forerunner to The Apprentice – aged 22, which gave you the opportunity to work with mobile phone magnate John Caudwell, later leading the launch of Phones4UDirect. Did you always envisage ending up in fashion retail?
I’ve always been obsessed with delivering great product, satisfaction and value to customers. So I think that’s eventually what got me into fashion [retail].
The other thing that led me towards the business is this fascination with the online and digital space. At Phones4UDirect I saw how customer behaviour was changing very rapidly. I mean we built a business from nothing into a direct business turning over £130m.
So I got an early read on just how important mobile phones were in people’s lives and they’ve become even more important in the last three years since I’ve been here [at Shop Direct Group], for more than just making phone calls and sending text messages.
After joining Shop Direct Group in 2009 one of the first things you did was reduce the number of fascias from 21 to 9. Why did you decide to do that?
When I first arrived we had lots of duplication of brand positioning, and weren’t being very efficient in talking to distinct customer groups. We’ve now defined three core customers that we are going after. Our growth will come particularly from Very and Isme, but there are also some brands that have been around 80-odd years like Littlewoods that still service an absolute need for the customer, but aren’t growing at this point.
Your current focus is on “power brands” Very, which is targeted at younger consumers, and Isme, which is targeted at the 45+ market. Why these brands in particular? They are two parts of the market in huge growth online, though the mature market is actually the fastest growing online market at the moment in terms of fashion.
Littlewoods is the third power brand and it will always be very important to us. It’s got a heritage and over a million active customers on its base at any one time. It is an incredibly important financial part of the business, and we’ll continue to advertise it and talk to our new and existing customers about it.
Shop Direct Group is known for its celebrity collaborations. What do these add to the brand?
It’s a massive USP for us. We’re really picky about who we work with. A celebrity needs to be in the top one or two that our customer is saying that they want to see designing for us.
There is a lot of scepticism about celebrity and whether they actually design anything and that’s the second part of why we’re really picky. We want people to be passionate about actually designing, coming up here [to Speke in Liverpool] and working with our designers. Whereas most people just front a campaign, with our celebrities we insist that they work with us for at least 15/20 days a year.
Shop Direct Group has a catalogue heritage, but how important are catalogues now?
When I first joined we were sending out over five million catalogues a season, so 10 million a year. This year we’ll be sending something closer to 1 million catalogues, an 80% reduction. Catalogue is a really important part of what we do in certain brands – such as Littlewoods – but the absolute vast majority customers don’t need to be stimulated by a catalogue, and therefore it is diminishing. I’ll envisage a day that one or two of our brands won’t have a catalogue, and that’s a day that’s pretty close.