Gary Kibble is Chief Marketing and Digital Officer at Wickes. We caught up with him to ask how the home improvement retailer is adapting during the coronavirus pandemic.

Kibble gives us some positives amid the negatives, and discusses which brand responses have impressed him thus far.

Please describe your job: What do you do?

I am the Chief Marketing and Digital Officer at Wickes. The role is pretty broad, covering all areas of the traditional marketing mix plus accountability for all digital activity (digital marketing, front-end and back-end and customer experience). I also have accountability for customer data and the new store and store refit programme.

How has your typical day been impacted in the short term by the pandemic?

Not unsurprisingly, it has changed a lot. Most days are spent on Google Hangouts so the rhythm and routine of the ‘set-piece’ meetings and decision points are still in-play, just virtually. In addition we have a twice a day check-in as a board (once at weekends) and I have a session with the Marketing leadership team every day.

What are your favourite tools and techniques to help you get your work done at the moment?

I mentioned Google Hangouts which have really stood up to the test! We run our weekly ‘huddle’ on a Monday where the whole team joins and it is a great way to see people and share the big messages, actions and interventions. The weather has definitely helped and I am a big believer in working in the right environment. To that end I have spent many of my days outside so my wifi hotspot has been a good friend!

The last thing is taking regular exercise and making sure you have face-to-face interaction through the day. My three children are all being taught remotely so it is good to try and take breaks together and catch up on the day’s activities!

Which companies have impressed you since the outbreak?

I’m not a big fan of those brands that have ‘trumpeted’ about how they have donated millions of items of PPE to the NHS (whilst that is admirable). As C S Lewis said, ‘integrity is doing the right thing when no one is watching’. That is what we have done in Wickes.

I do respect the speed with which the supermarkets reacted to the crisis in terms of managing the customer flow into and around stores, allocating hours to critical workers and generally responding through their supply chain. On a lighter note, great to see brands like Budweiser bringing out of the archives some great ad material, updated for the CV-19 situation!

On a more local level, I have loved how local brands have pivoted their business model. We have a local bakery and they created a delivery service on a Wednesday and Sunday. This means we have fresh bread and pastries as a family treat on Sunday morning!

What changes are you making to help your brand connect with how people are feeling and experiencing the pandemic?

We are clear that the priority right now is the safety and security of knowing that the shopping experience is safe. That we are looking after and protecting colleagues and customers. All our communication focuses on this right now. The customer mind-set is not on promotions, deals or discounts. We have turned our business model on its head in the past 4-5 weeks and we have focussed on service communication to customers whilst being true to our brand purpose, Wickes, Let’s do it right.

What trends have you seen in the last few weeks in your sector?

Naturally we have seen material market growth in the digital space with visits in the market up c. 70-80%. We have started to see some competitors open their retail real estate, with mixed reaction, and have definitely seen a retraction of spend from a broadcast perspective. The biggest positive, to my mind, is the way teams have grown closer and moved into tight ‘units’ – looking after, protecting and supporting each other. Out of all the bad comes lots of good. You just have to look for it.

What advice would you give a marketer right now?

Stay positive, stay inquisitive, be adaptable.

What does long term planning and strategy look like now at your brand?

We have spent much of the past 4-5 weeks getting the business model functioning effectively whilst looking after the safety and wellbeing of our teams. Every day we think it will get easier as a ‘new norm’ is established, only for the next day to throw up a new challenge that we had never seen before! However, as we get better at understanding the way the business, our customers and our colleagues best operate in this new world, we are finding more time to lift our gaze.

As I said, out of all the bad comes lots of good. My sense is that there will be new businesses formed and existing businesses will change forever. Whether that is structural change or behavioural change…it will be change!