Please describe your job: What do you do?
I’m the CEO at Taylor & Hart, an omni-channel bespoke jewellery brand. We’re now a company of almost fifty and as we’ve gone through our journey and evolved, my role has changed alongside the company.
More and more, I’m finding that my job is to empower and help my peers and colleagues to do the best possible job they can. It’s gone from being a doer – a technical role – to one in which I’m a Swiss army knife of sorts. I do lots of different things like fix parts of the company, speak to customers, make sales, deliver products and make sure that those various teams are functioning efficiently.
From an external perspective my job is to engage stakeholders and represent the company in the best possible light. It starts from working closely with the board on strategy, being aligned on our long term vision and being a representative of the brand and the company in front of the press and the media. Internally, from a leadership perspective, my job is to align the team on the strategy and make sure we’re heading towards our goals.
How has your typical day been impacted in the short term by the pandemic?
From the pandemic’s perspective, there have been some positives and some things that are not as positive. We were already quite a global company, with a lot of meetings taking place via Google Hangouts, so that hasn’t changed.
A positive has been that taking out the commute in a city like London saves a huge amount of time and it’s helped me gain efficiency. I’m able to get up, exercise, have breakfast and get going straight away. You’re quite focused, especially if you create an environment in your home that’s productive.
But what I missed was face time with my colleagues. A lot of things are left unsaid in virtual meetings, but being able to engage and catch up with your peers is very important from a company culture perspective, especially for one of our size. We’re not a massive corporation and those relationships mean a lot. Going into the office twice a week is my new goal and that’s allowed me to benefit from working at home as much as possible while also reducing missing face time with my colleagues.
What are your favourite tools and techniques to help you get your work done at the moment?
I’m a big fan of the pomodoro technique where you block out time and immerse yourself in a concentrated period of work without distractions and switching off all notifications. Then I’m also able to remind myself to get up and have a walk just to clear my head quite often. I think it’s quite healthy physically but also productive.
We killed internal email by replacing it with Slack. I like not having to base your communications around email threads that are hard to search and aren’t very inclusive. With Slack, more people can be involved. Also, new people who join the company can go through the archives and find out what decisions were made in the last three months, which can help get them up to speed. It creates a much easier onboarding process for managers and gives new starters more context. It’s a fantastic tool that will only continue to grow and develop. As for Zoom, I don’t think they developed much around the pandemic, but they were in the right place at the right time to take advantage of it.
Which companies have impressed you during the pandemic?
It’s been the local businesses that have made small improvements and changes to become much more tailored to the needs of the people that live in the area. As a small business, it’s not always easy to compete on price or the standardisation of products and services like some of the chains. But in all honesty, my wife and I are much happier shopping and eating out locally. Quite a few of the little bars and shops—and even our local grocery store—started taking orders and would go to the big market. Suddenly you have access to what a Michelin star chef would have because you both go to the same place to buy groceries every morning. You could place an order and they wouldn’t charge you anything!
Little things like that hyper-personalise service. I guess it wouldn’t surprise anyone that I like that because we built Taylor & Hart in very much that same way where we give customers the feeling that they’re dealing with a local business. We’re always trying to find how to scale that while maintaining that feeling.
What changes are you making to help your company connect with how people are feeling and experiencing the pandemic?
Initially we were the same as most other companies, which was almost a copy-paste template on what to do around Covid. I remember reading an article that emphasised the need to be human about what’s going on and not overly formal and corporate.
Everyone knows there’s a pandemic, you don’t have to reference it. What you can reference is how what you’re doing helps people and to show empathy. I think we changed tack half way through the lockdown. We stopped talking specifically about the pandemic. On live chat, we directly asked people what we could do to help. We know that most of those people weren’t going to propose in a romantic destination, that they probably didn’t have the same financial stability as before. Being mindful of that makes it easier to have a conversation with people about these things. We want to take the risk away from them, stressing that a 90-day return policy reassures them that if they don’t have an opportunity to get engaged or change their mind because of financial concerns, we’re here for them. We completely understand and they can easily make the return. We obviously want people to get engaged and be happy, but we don’t want that to be at the cost of their financial and personal well-being.
There was a sense of being authentic and human that I really liked coming across not just in our external communications but also in our one-to-one customer-consultant communications. I think we can do more to preserve that, even beyond the pandemic.
What trends have you seen in the last few weeks in your sector?
It’s no surprise that all the traditional high-street retailers are starting to really focus on ecommerce. That trend was already there, but they were probably a bit slower to react and now they have no choice. That’s exciting for us but also quite scary. On the one hand, we knew that ecommerce was growing and that there were only a handful of companies executing in this space. Most traditional retailers would have a website but the website experience wasn’t amazing. The scary thing is the huge increase in energy and competition in the space of ecommerce. But we feel excited because we already know that you have to change more than your website to be successful.
The fundamental assumptions behind your business model need to change. Most of these high-street companies can’t react as quickly because they need deep business changes that go beyond the ecommerce experience. This brings up the question of where you hold stock? Do you hold stock? How do you create a system that is able to customise online without having stock products? All of these concerns are native to our business model, we built them into the company from the get-go. For most of our competitors, there will now be a lot of money going into building online experiences that won’t be able to match what we’re working on. We’ll have a small market share but of a very large and growing ecommerce market, which leaves us with a big opportunity.
What advice would you give a marketer right now?
Think local. People are spending a lot more time in their neighbourhoods and those areas may have great opportunities for certain types of marketing campaigns. Out of home campaigns and local advertising that wasn’t as exciting in the past is a lot more exciting now. I’d also say to think global at the same time. There’s never been a better reason to connect with customers around the world who can’t get the same products or services locally anymore. Those people are going online and when they go online they’re accessing the global market. The biggest opportunities exist between the two extremes of the local-global spectrum. So my advice to marketeers is look at the world market while also looking for local opportunities that are highly correlated to the customer they’re targeting.
What does long term planning and strategy look like now at your company?
We had felt that we had all the answers and so we were putting gas into the Taylor & Hart company in order to go as fast as possible. But now we’re taking a moment to reflect on what the changing world means in terms of our fundamental beliefs about growth.
We are a clicks-and-brick business model so a part of our success story is that we had consultation rooms that customers can access—which aren’t as expensive as stores, but still give customers a tangible proximity to the product. Now the question is whether we’re still convinced that these are needed for long term and faster scale growth. We don’t have the answer. But at the moment we’re considering our options for what our long term strategies are going to be for at least the next five years. We’re thinking about whether we double down on ecommerce or if there are more creative, scalable and innovative low-cost ways to engage with customers on an in-person basis.