Our latest guest on our podcast is Mark Wright, Chief Operating Officer at FatFace!
Mark joins host Sorcha to talk about the transformation of FatFace over the years, from driving change in the business to how they achieved carbon neutrality and are now aiming for carbon zero. As COO, Mark has been responsible for modernising the retail approach and starting out their transformation journey which he discusses in more detail in this episode.
He also shares some advice for business owners facing a potentially bleak 2023, the vital role of the store for DTC businesses, advice for businesses right now, and lots more.
Listen below to the full episode:
Or if you prefer, read the full transcript here:
Sorcha O’Boyle: Hello and welcome to the Industry Leaders Podcast, where we talk to the leaders of some of the most exciting retail and direct brands and learn the real stories behind their success, their challenges, and their plans for the future. I’m Sorcha O’Boyle and this podcast is brought to you by More2, the marketing science people. Now I am delighted to have Mark Wright on the podcast with me this week. Mark is a big brand retailer through and through. He cut his teeth at M&S where he started out on a graduate scheme and worked his way up and up before moving to Jack Wills where he was managing director of Multichannel and he’s now been at FatFace for just over three years, recently taking on the role of chief operating officer. Mark it is great to have you here, how are you?
Mark Wright: Good Morning Sorcha, I’m really well thank you, happy Friday.
Sorcha O’Boyle: Ah listen I’m so happy to be here on Friday, finally, this week felt like a slog. So, listen Mark like I said I’m really interested in your story because, you know, obviously you’ve come through the big brands. What was it about FatFace that made you kind of go, “You know what? This is the right business for me; they’re the right people for me; it’s the right brand for me.” What was it about it?
Mark Wright: Yeah well, I suppose I’ve known FatFace for a number of years really. The background in adrenaline sports, I like skiing and surfing and those things. So, I knew about the brand, I had purchased a number of items of clothing, and I guess more recently I was really interested in the brands position on topics like sustainability and also fundraising, something that I really care about. So, I knew about FatFace and how it had changed its stance but the real reason that I considered it is really about culture and fit. Ultimately people work for people, and I had been fortunate enough to work with Liz Evans earlier in my career whilst at M&S. Liz is incredibly ambitious, very driven, and very commercially minded and she also makes her team work pretty hard, but she commands enormous respect. So that was the original appeal and Liz had joined FatFace early 2019 and was sounding me out about potential role and initially I turned it down.
Sorcha O’Boyle: Did you?
Mark Wright: I did. I decided that I wanted to move out of clothing retail and move into a different space actually. But Liz persisted, I had a couple of coffees, she got me down to meet the team in Havant and then a bit ironically really but early one Friday morning, the sun was shining, I was out in my kayak on the River Thames with only the noise of ducks in the background and my phone started ringing and it was Liz offering me the role of global operations director at FatFace. And I felt the fact that I was sat in a kayak on the river was an omen and I said, “Yes”, and three years later I haven’t looked back, no regrets at all, I’ve loved the experience.
Sorcha O’Boyle: Brilliant and do you always start your Friday morning in a kayak on the River Thames?
Mark Wright: I wish. Normally more like a creek without a paddle, I think.
Sorcha O’Boyle: I mean I think we all know that feeling.
Mark Wright: I do love water sports and actually getting to the river is one of those sort of serene and relaxing places for me either start of the day or an end of the day. So I guess my way to switch off.
Sorcha O’Boyle: Yeah, that’s funny, me too actually, off topic, but I’m a rower.
Mark Wright: Ah, I didn’t know that.
Sorcha O’Boyle: Yeah, there’s something beautiful about just the stillness of the river early in the morning or late in the evening, it’s really special isn’t it.
Mark Wright: It’s really nice.
Sorcha O’Boyle: Jumping back to FatFace and actual work. Can you tell me a little bit about the values that you have at FatFace. I know you mentioned sustainability and you also mentioned seeing the people and you know those kind of core values. Can you tell me a little bit more about them and what they mean to you as someone working with the business?
Mark Wright: Yes definitely. I mean I think in 2020 we updated the brand mission statement to ‘FatFace Made For Life.’ Which works on a number of levels really. Now we are a family-based brand, we appeal to all the family with quality clothing and therefore the Made For Life connotation carries with it a quality seal from a product point of view but it also embodies what underpins the business in terms of how we work with partners, how we work with communities and how we work with our own people, and we updated the values and the business at the same time. So just modernising them really to positive, being fun, feeling good and working better together and then environmental consciousness. So FatFace already had some real strength in that area and was known for slogans like, ‘Life outside the 9 to 5’ but work is no longer 9 to 5 and in a world which is 24/7 things like well-being have become more important. So, we work really closely with the retail trust and then environmental topic also really, really, important and sustainability is one of our key pillars in the business.
Sorcha O’Boyle: So sustainability obviously is a very important part of FatFace and I know that your aim is to carbon neutral by 2025. Can you tell me concretely how you’re going about that and how are you measuring yourselves?
Mark Wright: It’s an area that we are learning more and more about actually, so the good news is we aim to be carbon neutral by 2025 and we’ve actually achieved that for the last two years.
Sorcha O’Boyle: Have you really?
Mark Wright: So in terms of meeting that objective within our own owned UK operations, we’re already there. But actually, our lens on this has changed because we’re no longer talking about carbon neutrality, it’s now about net zero and that’s really taking all of our operations, all of our touchpoints. So that the carbon neutral target set didn’t include how we support our suppliers who make the garments for us. So, we now complete an annual ESG in sustainability report and that touches all parts of the organisation and we’re committed to continue to find ways to now work towards net zero status. So, in the last 12 months that’s included working with three global projects to support carbon off-setting. In 2021 we formed a partnership with the National Forest and have committed to a 75-year partnership effectively planting 60,000 trees, so definitely starting to own our part in that and I guess our sustainability strategy focuses on three pillars which is product, everything that we do and make needs to be done in a more sustainable way be that use of raw materials, better cotton initiative, a lot of our products are removing fabrics from our supply chain completely. Our planet, so we already source our electricity renewably and we do recycling at different locations but really think about the impact that we have in how we do business and then finally community and we call it community not people because it’s not just about our employees it’s about people that we work with, be that partners, be that customers and kind of how we can, and educate not in a preachy way but help to understand the impact those things have and that includes charity partners but we have our own foundation. So foundation was established and has raised more than two million pound working with partners. On top of that we’re with Shelter at Christmas, we fundraise with the Princes Trust, and we now have a partnership with Marine Conservation Society that we’ve done for the last two summers. Whereby we are working with them on product but things like beach cleans and activity that our community can get involved in as well as Donate a Day. So we offer the opportunity to all of our employees, take a day to go and support one of our national partners or a local charity they work with. We don’t think we’re there, but we are getting more and more granular looking at everything that we do and what we can do to play a part in it and energy’s quite a good one because as well as being good for the planet for obvious reasons there are also practical business benefits to getting this right.
Sorcha O’Boyle: Yeah, yeah of course. I always think it must be interesting or a good challenge for designers as well and particularly for, you know, your tomorrow’s talent designers when they’re kind of, not restricted in the fabrics they can use but there’s certain constraints put on them.
Mark Wright: Yeah, but I think getting back to the sort of innovation points. So, three years ago now, just as I joined the business at Christmas, somebody had the brilliant idea of redesigning shopping bags. So, all of our of shopping bags are made out of paper, which was a deliberate choice some time ago and actually created an idea which we’ve named ‘Mindful Wrapping’. And all of the bags then can be repurposed and reused for wrapping paper. We’ve made that even easier this year in terms of how you can cut them out and work with them and again every year we look to improve, so how do you improve it from a reusable, recycled source. Well actually it’s no wrapping. So, the idea this year was actually how can you use different things so actually there’s some fabric wrapping options so repurposing things that they can use afterwards. I think what’s really exciting about this topic is there is a way and there are leaders in this space like Patagonia who are held up rightly so. But sort of reinventing their business inside out now.
Sorcha O’Boyle: And actually, do you know I was in one of your stores about two weeks ago in South West Kerry, in Ireland.
Mark Wright: Ah, yes.
Sorcha O’Boyle: So, if anyone is planning your holiday, I have to say Kerry is a great spot to go. But this lovely town called Kenmare and it’s kind of a market town and one of the things that really jumped out to me actually was what you had set up behind the counter. It was very, very, prominent, your involvement with Focus Ireland which is a charity for homeless people in Ireland who links also to Princes Trust.
Mark Wright: That’s right, yeah.
Sorcha O’Boyle: I was quite interested actually. Obviously, I would know FatFace as a British brand, but I was interested to see that you partner obviously with Irish charities and things like that. And obviously you have expanded into the US as well, so I imagine you have similar things planned or already ongoing there. But how do you think retailers can connect with communities in that way in kind of a local level because I think it’s important for retailers not to just look at kind of big picture stuff but also small picture stuff.
Mark Wright: Yeah, no it’s a really good one and something we work with on a sort of monthly basis actually. So at national level we work with a number of key charity partners. You mentioned Princes Trust. We have worked with the Princes Trust for a number of years now and we do product collaborations. So a scheme that’s called Tomorrow’s Talent which we started back in 2017 where we bring in young people to help us with product design. But we also have other things across the whole organisation so back in 2019 we did the Palace to Palace bike ride, had fifty people from stores all around the world and our offices and warehouse and raised nearly £50,000 actually. So that, you know, bringing together sort of for a national organisation but then locally, yeah in Ireland, we do work in the US. Last winter we worked with an organisation called One Warm Coat, which is about providing support and clothing for people obviously at that time of year and this Christmas we’re really proud that we’ll be supporting Shelter again. So right across the UK both from a product donation, so 10% of a range of product goes direct to Shelter charity and every year we have colleagues in stores across the UK participate in Shelter Walk. So, you know getting out and supporting and also volunteering at some of the soup kitchens and what have you as well. So, it really is right across the organisation and it’s because our team’s care. They want to get involved and support both at local level and at national.
Sorcha O’Boyle: Brilliant yeah that’s fantastic. And I find a family business is really interesting. Obviously FatFace started out as a family business, so it isn’t any more, well it’s not purely family business I suppose. What was it like coming into a business like that where obviously Will is still the CEO? What’s it like coming into those kind of businesses as an outsider?
Mark Wright: Yeah, no that’s a great question. Obviously, it started two founders Tim and Jules back in the day created this brand and I think a lot of the principals they had when they started carry on in the business today. We’ve got some really long service. We’ve got our longest employee has been with the brand for 26 years.
Sorcha O’Boyle: Really?
Mark Wright: You know for a brand that’s 34 years old that’s a pretty good tenure.
Sorcha O’Boyle: Yeah.
Mark Wright: And it does have a family feel in a positive way. It’s very welcoming, it’s airing. I found that a little bit scary at first. I thought have I joined some kind of mafia that everybody knows everybody and there’s quite a few relations. But actually, people are close to the business and really care about. But I guess coming in for me, I came in with a quite specific purpose. So Liz was really clear with me that the asks of me were really to get to know the business, to modernise the retail approach, build that capability and more latterly really start out that transformation journey. So modernise not only the way that we thought about retailing in business but how we were approaching customers and using technology. So, I think it was a great base to start from and it is, you know, welcoming. But I think we now have brought in external talent and that fusing of external perspective with internal experience, I think builds a really good, a really good knowledge across the business.
Sorcha O’Boyle: Yeah of course. And what does that digital transformation look like? Because it can be a bit of a challenge for heritage brands?
Mark Wright: Yes, it certainly can. I mean I think to build any kind of digital platform and business you need a strong business foundation to begin with and that is a brand that’s strong, that’s products that people either want or need and a willingness to change. And FatFace already had a number of funds afoot with changes in systems, but the pandemic has helped us in this regard. You know I think we’d already put an e-learning solution in, accessible anywhere in the world. iPads that clock in and out. So there were nods to digital information but in terms of transforming the business the pandemic accelerated that because of the shift in channels. You know the minute that you have to close all of your store estate everywhere in the world and you’re relying on an e-com channel, it meant that everything started to centre around that. So, I think ultimately, we had a burning platform to do that and accelerate it and to make it work I think there’s a high degree of determination and resilience but often you’re swimming against the tide of the way that we’ve always done things. “Well, that’s not how we do it at this business.” So, I think really sticking by your guns working with it and doing that cultural transformation. It’s not necessarily a nice phase but I think people do need to be on the bus and you need the right people on the bus, so I think that ultimately you have to force that change through.
Sorcha O’Boyle: This might be slightly putting you on the spot. But, you know, if you have someone whose kind of a bit of a sticking point or someone that doesn’t want to make that change and let’s say that they are quite influential in the business, how would you approach that?
Mark Wright: I think we’ve been very lucky at FatFace because there’s a willingness to learn and adapt and I think it is about adapting and lifting your head up and seeing what’s going around you because change is necessary. In the most part I think people understanding that and wanting to learn as I’ve said we’ve been very fortunate. I think if not then it is a direct conversation around what the world looks like now or what it’s going to look like tomorrow and people being prepared to change and fit into that and that doesn’t work for everybody.
Sorcha O’Boyle: For sure. We touched on it briefly but the store experience and let’s go back to it moving from e-com to stores I think the store experience at FatFace is particularly good and I’m not, genuinely, not just saying that. Like I said previously I was in that shop in Kenmare a few weeks ago and the lady behind the counter was absolutely fantastic. I was with my mum and my mum, she’s kind of mid-fifties, she’s usually digitally interested, I think you know. The lady behind the counter she was great in that she, you know when she offered a e-receipt to my mum she said, you know, she [00:13:52], “Oh you know, listen, we’ll be able to give you a 50% discount afterwards.” So, she was able to explain obviously the benefit of going for the e-receipt. She was very natural and very open and very honest, and I think my mum commented on the quality of the t-shirt that she was buying, really soft, really nice and the lady behind the counter was able to say, “Oh yeah, actually I’ve got about ten of these and you know those really hold their shape and they’re really, yeah they really last really, really, well.” So, she was actually genuinely one of the best brand ambassadors I think I’ve ever seen, she was great. How do you help your in-store teams to give that kind of experience to your customer. Because that’s not something that happens naturally. Obviously, there’s an element but it’s not an easy thing to do even though it looks easy.
Mark Wright: No, you’re absolutely right. First of all, it’s brilliant to hear. It’s totally authentic, you know, we can’t make things like that up and those experiences happen up and down our estate every single day and I’m pretty sure the person that would have been helping you that day would have been Lucy who’s the store manager of Kenmare shop. 00:14:43
Sorcha O’Boyle: [00:14:43] she was great.
Mark Wright: Oh yeah, I know, I’ll name drop her, she’s fantastic and it’s totally authentic that this comes from our store team really caring. You know they’re not incentivised; they don’t do hard sell but they really care about the customer experience, and they also have real belief in our products and what we stand for. So, it sounds corny, but it does come from the heart, I think. And from a leadership perspective what we’ve done to support I think is about empowerment. It’s about encouraging our teams to make the right choices, to focus on the customer ahead of the task, wherever possible, because it’s not always possible and we don’t always get it right. But I think overall that passion to care for the customer is what shines through. And we’ve also done a few things I guess linking to back, to your question on digital transformation. So, we used to have an in-store mystery shopping programme which was very good but focused only on individuals giving service. So, a high level of training but for individuals and that wasn’t sustainable particularly closing all of our shop. We’ve used digital means now so Google reviews and Trustpilot and we share those with our store teams every single week. They are incredibly proud when they get name dropped and we’ve moved from a 1.7-star rating on Trustpilot to now over 4.5 stars, with 30,000 reviews.
Sorcha O’Boyle: That is huge.
Mark Wright: It’s massive.
Sorcha O’Boyle: Yeah.
Mark Wright: And our store teams were at the forefront of that because we had a low performance on service, and we needed to improve it. And, you know, they take tremendous pride in what they do. And another great idea that came about from a colleague in store who we call our crew. All of our teams in stores are called our crew and they wanted to be able to do some peer recognition. So actually, we took the idea away and we now have designed a set of metal pin badges which are awarded, and they’re awarded for being friendly and helpful and, you know, we have diversity champions, we have a piece around charity fund-raising, something we believe in. But then there are other badges like a superhero badge that we have peer to peer recognition and there’s only one badge. So, you can’t have a team full of superheroes but the team say they want to pass it on and recognise their peers. So, I think we’ve been able to support it but it’s something that has been built up in this business over a long time. Certainly not down to me, it’s down to the people working in our store, estate, who do a fantastic job day in, day out.
Sorcha O’Boyle: That’s fantastic. I actually, I love the idea of the peer-to-peer recognition. Because someone who knows you and works with you knows you so much better than someone who-.
Mark Wright: Absolutely and they see the hard moments as well as the good moments. So, we tend to think about recognition being about success and doing something right but sometimes it can just be getting through a day.
Sorcha O’Boyle: Yeah, absolutely.
Mark Wright: And getting through a pile of delivery that you never thought you were going to see the back of. So, I think it’s really important.
Sorcha O’Boyle: Yeah, fantastic and can you tell me what kind of role do you see stores playing in the future [00:17:24].
Mark Wright: Yeah, I mean they’re absolutely critical. I’ve sort of been quoted on this before, but I won’t change my mind. But for us stores are the pinnacle live experience of this brand. I’ve said this before, but you can have a really good online transaction which means you place an order, you’re able to get the items in the right sizes available and it gets delivered, on time, when you expected it. Great. It ticks all the boxes of meeting your need. But a bit like your experience in Kenmare really Sorcha, you know, we have the ability to change the course of someone’s day by giving them great service. And that physical embodiment of a brand is so much stronger when it’s brought to live. And there’s pressure on stores at the moment, there’s pressure on rent, you know, costs are incredibly difficult for most people but it’s a reminder of your brand that your able to enrich the perception of your brand if you set up and operate a great store estate. So, I’m a massive advocate, it’s where I started, I will always believe in the store business, but I think for us in particular it brings it to life and I’m sure I’ll come around and talk about internationally but in the US that’s very true as well.
Sorcha O’Boyle: Yeah, we might get on to that in a second but just sticking to stores for the moment, what role do you think AI is going to play in the customer experience in stores? Because, you know, you hear so many people talking about all these gadgets and gizmos that are going to be going, what’s your take on that?
Mark Wright: Well, it definitely plays a role. I mean you can’t deny that people are buying cars through websites, through customer AI, and in shopping centres have never driven a car and are able to sit in a cockpit, imagine what it’s like, go through an experience and what have you. And I think technology and use of data is super critical and something that we definitely believe. So, it’s something that we will continue to look at, invest in. I was actually looking at robotics for sortation and picking in our warehouse and distribution centre last week. So, I think where there are cost efficiencies and using algorithms to better predict behaviour or commercial planning, definitely a place for it. Personally, never going to the hairdressers to have my hair cut with a robot. There’s a time and place for these things. For me I think where it enhances the experience, definitely, but not as a direct replacement for in store shop.
Sorcha O’Boyle: And touching then onto your US expansion. Can you tell me how you’ve approached the expansion? How have American customers responded to the brand? Has anything surprised you?
Mark Wright: It has, and I think what started as a small idea six years ago prior to my time joining the business there’s some great work was done to open the first store in Portland, in Maine and chosen because it felt very FatFace, you know, very lifestyle brand. But the US is a very different market. So we now have 24 stores dotted along the New England coastline and now branching it into Washington DC. They are mainly holiday locations where there are people who are resident but also travelling from other parts of the US or internationally. And holiday destinations work very well for us because there’s a good feel-good factor. You know, people feel differently when the sun is generally shining, and they are on holidays. So, we trade well in those locations but in the US, there aren’t the chains that you see in the UK so they’re mainly what we refer too as Mom and Pop shop, they’re independent US retail unit. But from that first store decisions were made that it would be a US based business. All of our store managers, all of our crew are US resident and recruited and employed locally. We have a Head of US stores based out in the US, now reporting to myself and there are some core products that really made us famous. There is a heavyweight sweatshirt loved at FatFace as one of our heritage pieces called the Airlie and that garment has gone down an absolute storm particularly our American Airlie which comes in red, white, and blue.
Sorcha O’Boyle: Oh yeah, course.
Mark Wright: You can imagine and a lot of patriotism. But I think they really value the quality of the garments, the weight, and the feel. There is quite a lot, with FatFace, we do a lot of soft touch, comfortable clothing which people know but in a new market it’s brilliant for here. Customers who’ve never heard of the brand before, touching it, picking it up and wanting to buy it and commenting what great price it is. On the Airlie we now have a National Airlie Day, so that was held two weeks ago, and we sold over 15 hundred of those garments in a day across the store estate, doesn’t even include online. So, it’s built really well. Five of the stores take more than a million dollars now a year and menswear index is slightly higher than women’s. So, it’s a slight skew to slightly younger and a men’s customer.
Sorcha O’Boyle: That’s interesting. Did you see that coming?
Mark Wright: No, we didn’t actually, and I don’t know whether that’s a little bit of the heritage of the brand. What’s exciting for us now is that online is growing even faster. So, we’re over 100% growth online and we’re growing customers at the same rate we are sales so what’s great is we’re building that out. And actually, just recently announced we now have intentions to go into Canada. So, the store estate will continue to grow in the US but we are now building plans to open six stores next year in Canada which we think will be great again given all of the heritage of the brand and the country sector.
Sorcha O’Boyle: Yeah, that’s fantastic.
Mark Wright: I have to say you still do get some slightly odd looks when you’re stood in the street in Chatham and people see our brand name with FatFace above the door next to an Ice Cream parlour, it does raise an eye but it’s not stopping the affection for the brand.
Sorcha O’Boyle: Well, that’s good, that’s good. Actually, I was going to ask actually about the origin of the name.
Mark Wright: Yeah, a lot of people do, and it is a little bit strange in 2022 to think, “Where did you end up with that?” So, Tim and Jules the original founders were avid skiers and used to go out the French Alps and ski through the winter and actually the business started for them as a way of funding those trips. So, in the summer they went back with a VW Campervan, a proper heritage Campervan, hence you see it referenced in stores and in products and sold t-shirts out the back of that van to raise money. And their favourite ski run is one that I’m fortunate enough to have been to which is called La Face which is in Val d’Isère. Because it was their favourite, they called it the Fat Face and that’s how it stuck, nothing to do with anything else. And from those early trips they were pioneering in terms of taking customer details when it was going really well, and they discovered that most people buying the product where UK domestics out for the ski season and a lot are concentrated around sort of West London. So hence the first store was actually, people think of the South Coast, but it’s actually Fulham. So, data capture was inherent in the way that they started this business. So, we’re coming full circle now I think as we build out a multi-channel business, so yeah it’s funny.
Sorcha O’Boyle: Absolutely. We hear an awful lot of doom and gloom going on at the moment about basically Christmas onwards, I think. How do you see the next 12 months or so unfolding for retailers?
Mark Wright: I won’t lie it’s probably going to continue to be pretty tough. There are so many pressures at the moment particularly on consumer disposable income. Obviously, there’s been recent government announcements around relief for all of us in terms of domestic bills which is extremely well received. We are still about to find out what’s going to be in place for businesses but it’s not going to be as far reaching or for as long. So, I think whilst that provides a bit of temporary relief the cost pressures of energy, of rent, for store based businesses, of carriage and then exchange rate. All of these things at the moment are coming in and I think it’s going to continue to be pretty tough both pre-Christmas and beyond. I think the uncertainty in the world that’s happened of, you know, with recent event, means that I think people will be planful this side of Christmas and then cautious afterwards. But that’s the sort of negative bit. I have to say I do feel optimistic actually that I think for businesses that are well set up, that have great product, that are keeping in sync with customer mindset sentiment I think can do well and I feel that we are well set up as a business at the moment to offer great product, a great service in all of our channels this side of Christmas and beyond. And then I think the interesting things are things like sustainability and those customer choices that we’re going to have to make as we go through the next 12 to 24 months.
Sorcha O’Boyle: So, I think some of the major themes that have come out for retailer over the past say three years is expecting the unexpected. Can you tell me a little bit about how you can insulate a business or, you know, retailing, retailers, as against unforeseen events whether that be supply chain issues, whether that be rising energy costs. What is it that retailers can do so that they’re not constantly on the back foot?
Mark Wright: Yeah, it’s been a heck of a three years, I can’t remember the like of it to be honest. I mean yes, we’ve had the pandemic, we’ve had Ukraine situation, we’ve got energy, we’ve got change of government, change of monarch and actually we also suffered a cyber incident, something that you sort of think about and plan for, but all of these things catch you on the back foot. I don’t think you can ever be fully prepared. I haven’t felt fortunate, but I do feel fortunate that I was part of the business continuity team at M&S that we used to run through scenarios fairly regularly of all kinds of things from terror issues to social disturbance and therefore having some of those things in back of your mind is helpful. Having them written down with some planned processes of how you react is really helpful because in those instance you are responding to things around you but also as a leader you are, you are accountable, and you are setting directions. So, I guess one of the things that really sticks with me always is to think about people, then about brand and then about profit or business impact. And, you know, working and coaching some of the team at FatFace that I think always held in really good stead. If you think about, what are you doing for people first, ultimately in terms of safety, clarity, that’s ultimately the most important thing then protecting your brand and the potential of negative impact there and lastly almost business and profit. They’re really important but actually just making sure you put them through some sort of funnel or filter I think is really helpful. Through being clear about the approach you’re going to take. So, I wrote down on my pad just as the pandemic was starting about ‘being human’ was my internal phrase that I used. So, trying to remember that again back to working with people first. Any of these things have very real consequences on employees, on suppliers, on families and therefore really being mindful of that. And the other piece is probably using time. So when you’re a leader in that situation the one thing that you’ve got, the one commodity in shortest supply is time because you’re expected to make decisions quickly, you’re trying to second guess what might happen next so I think using hierarchy in a positive way, you know, delegating as much as you can and empowering your teams were they are the expert to come up with the answers and show that you’re prepared to listen to them. That can actually take the weight off your shoulders as a leader and enable you a bit of clear-thinking space about what you’re going to do next. And I think the only other bit with the scenario planning is unintended consequences which is a bit of a marked phrase that gets over used, but it’s quite easy to come up with your next step, you know, if you’re at point A coming up with point B, but if you can think about what might happen at points C and D it really does help because it stops you getting boxed in you’re having that flexibility to adapt your plan.
Sorcha O’Boyle: And I think what’s also important is how the leadership team works together.
Mark Wright: Yes.
Sorcha O’Boyle: Can you tell me a little bit about the leadership team at FatFace and how do you guys delegate decisions like that or responsibility like that?
Mark Wright: So, everybody in the senior team has really clear functionable accountability. Sort of fairly standard structure if you like with Will as CEO of the business, we then have CFO’s, COO, and then brand IT and product divisions. And we meet every couple of weeks as a team. Interestingly through the pandemic we spoke every single day, at the end of the day to check in. Some of that was personal check in as well as where we’re going with the business. There were times we just didn’t want to speak to each other. But I think we got to know each other pretty well so therefore what’s been really strong at FatFace is there’s a high degree of trust in the top table, holding each other to account but I think coming together to be aligned. There just to be a phrase about cabinet responsibility, I’m not sure I’d used that any more for obvious reasons, but I think board accountability and actually being very open with that. One of the things I think we’ve done well is being open with the business around important decisions we’ve got to make. Yeah, that blend of shared accountability. That’s this new phrase being used at the moment around ‘teamship’ it’s very important to have that sort of balance of power and I use the word power really carefully because you don’t know it and I learnt this fairly early on but with that authority or having Director in your title you have power. You need to be aware of it because people can hang on your every word or go on something you’ve said, and you’d need to respect it.
Sorcha O’Boyle: I think also you need to empower people to challenge you.
Mark Wright: Correct, yeah and they need to be comfortable doing that. I think it’s really important to create that back to you don’t have all the answers so working with the team to build that is critical.
Sorcha O’Boyle: I always think, yeah, the sign of someone who’s doing a good job in a leader position is someone who’s actually happy to stay quiet most of the time.
Mark Wright: Yes. Absolutely.
Sorcha O’Boyle: What advice would you give to someone who’s maybe running a brand and feeling a little bit nervy about the next kind of, you know, next two years. What do you think are the things that they absolutely need to get right?
Mark Wright: Yeah, I’m not sure there’s one piece of advice because I think people will be facing different things at the moment. I think, you know, the reality of running a business is, you know, there’s everything from pleasing shareholders and investors and profit and growth forecasts to real short-term issues. And there’s a couple of things I referenced it earlier, but I think consumer mindset. Really staying in touch with how your customer is reacting and you can read all the reports and stats in the world but it’s about understanding your customer segment and you know, the pandemic taught all of us that you’ve got to keep close to that sense of what’s relevant, I think. Probably the second one for me is something that we’ve become much better at and that is leadership. I think as far as you can making the decisions around the top table that reduce worry or uncertainty for your teams and enable them to do their jobs really well and get a sense of satisfaction but trying to give them less things to worry about as well. There’s enough going on in their personal lives, try and give them some certainty about what you’re focusing on, and the third bit is I guess is focus on your strengths. It’s that old adage but I think you get competitive advantage by doing what you do really well and brilliantly and building out from that rather than trying to correct your weaknesses and for retailers that starts with product, you know, ultimately, we give great service, but people buy product.
Sorcha O’Boyle: Yeah absolutely. One thing that kind of jumps out to me is, as we’re talking, is that you talk quite a lot about stuff that feel’s right and I think sometimes it’s easy to get dragged into spreadsheets and excel and all these kinds of things and figures that are telling you to do one thing. But would you say that you are an intuitive person?
Mark Wright: That’s a great question actually. So, at the outset, not actually. I mean I love data. Most people that have worked with me will know I’m passionate about and the step I did from stores into the e-commerce channel and then becoming a multichannel director, the thing that I found most exciting about that is the ability to use information to learn new things, learn patterns of behaviour, great insight, and it’s quantifiable. I’m probably more science than art on that but I guess after years of doing retail work I think being in sync with your customer mindset and also with your team and really understanding and listening to them I think there’s a tremendous power that can come from that and I think one of the things you get is you get alignment quicker if people can understand it. I’m a firm believer in setting the context whether that be information and fact or a sense of what’s going on.
Sorcha O’Boyle: Yeah, sometimes I think it gets a little bit loss sometimes because you can’t quantify it, but sometimes your gut is right.
Mark Wright: One of the things in the sort of digital business is we do a lot of testing. We will AB test pages, colours, buttons, fonts all sorts of things but there is a rule of common sense in a way. You know, sometimes, I think if you did AB testing in a store you wouldn’t throw all the clothes on the floor to see if you sold more. You don’t need to test everything. There are some things that you can kind of get there. So, I think it’s that blend.
Sorcha O’Boyle: Yeah, I think you’re right. Can you tell me what are you looking forward to in the next 12 months?
Mark Wright: Well, I am really enjoying my job at the moment. I’m working with a great team, Will is leading our business through a period of change and I think in terms of working in different teams we had to go through a forming and storming phase pretty quickly at FatFace with the pandemic and the top table team has become pretty tight as a result of that. So, I’m enjoying that my role now encompasses pretty much end to end from goods in to goods out, be it dispatch or into the hands of customer. And a lot of the time I feel like when it goes wrong it’s ultimately my fault. And that’s a good thing because that means I get a good oversight of how we can change things and we’ve put a lot of time into that. So, this side of Christmas I’m really looking forward to seeing my team get some just desserts of some brilliant work, teamwork and planning and I think they should be breaking some great records. So, I’m looking forward to it with a sense of pride in my team actually and I think then into the following 12 months we’ve been going through an IT transformation programme for some time and some of that culminates in the Spring with the new RP and product planning and I think seeing that will be the next step of how we modernise the business. And outside of that Canada and International presents a real opportunity. We’re well known in this country with over 180 stores in the UK, five in Ireland and now 24 in the US. I think this brand has broad appeal so looking forward to continuing that there.
Sorcha O’Boyle: Fantastic. Listen, Mark that was really interesting I loved talking to you thank you so much.
Mark Wright: Thank you very much Sorcha. Enjoy the rest of the Friday and have a good weekend.
Sorcha O’Boyle: You too. That was Mark Wright, COO of FatFace. Thanks for tuning in to this week’s episode of the Industry Leader’s Podcast and don’t forget that you can catch up on all our previous episodes on Spotify, Apple Podcast or your usual podcast provider. That’s it for this week so from me Sorcha O’Boyle and all of us at More2, take care and goodbye.