Having worked for over 25 years, in both the UK and North America, providing supply chain solutions to the retail sector, I have always been aware of the cultural differences that exist between these two territories. American retailers were always seemingly happy to get together to discuss their business drivers, opportunities and threats, even with companies that were seemingly their competitors. The overall goal being that there is a greater good, it’s great to talk and you will benefit more from what you learn than you might lose from giving any secrets away. The UK environment always seemed to be somewhat different, a less open culture, more concerned about revealing things to our peers, with attendance at networking events perhaps even frowned upon by senior management, being seen as either a jolly or worse a sales event, or at least that’s how it seemed to me.
I think someone said that the internet would change everything and surprisingly, with the advent of email, instant messaging and social networking, these barriers seem to be coming down. Even us reserved Brits are now used to telling the world what we are doing, via Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter and numerous other technologies. Suddenly we have embraced the idea that it’s OK to tell the world what we are doing and even to think it’s cool! We seem to love it!
This message is natural for BT; we are of course a technology company whose business has literally been built on people’s desire to talk, so we have always embraced this approach. Our future is based on dialogue with our customers, we want to meet them regularly and to understand their business drivers, what’s good and what’s not so good. Essentially our customers are our eyes and ears on a fast moving retail world and the global economy.
With this in mind we invited our merchandising community to spend some time with us and chose the BT Tower in central London to do this. I don’t know if the draw was the fact that I was speaking, or the chance to be whisked to 33rd floor to meet colleague and friends sample breakfast and view the London skyline, although clearly I suspect the latter.
In any event, on a bright London morning there I was meeting some old and new faces from companies such as Oasis, Coast, Monsoon, Warehouse, Karen Millen, Austin Reed, Phase Eight and Per Una. Talking to Buyers and Merchandisers about their challenges, what’s hot and what’s not is always an invigorating experience, although having proudly announced that I have been doing this for 25 years and being reminded that some of the attendees weren’t even born, was perhaps less exciting.
Fortunately, despite my apparently advancing years, I do seem to have my fingers close to the pulse as my pet topics of multichannel trading, international trading, buying and merchandising productivity and a community based approach to future developments all seemed to strike a chord. After descending the 33 floors and being guided to the Maple room, something I found very apt with our Canadian software links, all I had to do was introduce a few ideas and off we went.
Discussion flowed from company to company in a remarkably open and productive manner. We learnt what BT Expedite did well, where we should improve and how the cost pressure in the supply chain, the use of mobile applications that drive an emotional tie to the company’s brand and the truly global nature of today’s trading community is changing buying and merchandising behaviour.
In many ways, although the world is seemingly ever changing, the group’s pressure points are largely as they have always been, customers need world class service and delivery options, global and multichannel retailing means that customers essentially trade 24/7. Gone are the days where systems have day- or week-end processes, instead it’s a continuous processing environment with more and more pressure on real time inventory accuracy. All this in an environment where the Buying and Merchandising community has to do more with less people. So less people to do more work, in a more demanding world, simple really!
The good thing in all this is that we are sharing our experiences as a group, when one company wants to open stores in a territory, another has done it, when we need to explore how to manage stock across multiple channels and multiple territories, the group’s ideas and experience can be brought together and the most optimal solution discovered.
Actually discovery really is the key word for all of us and BT Expedite’s role is to facilitate this, to drive the ideas forward and to deliver high class best practice and technology solutions to the group to sustain their business for the future. So we have plenty to do and we plan to meet regularly as a group, to use online meeting technology, to visit customers to review our ideas and to prototype solutions before offering them to the market.
It’s an exciting time to be involved with this, to build on our Britishness but to be happy to let it all out!
Everyone knows the winners from the recent BT Retail Week Technology Awards by now. In fact, checking blogs, sites and tweets in the immediate aftermath, it was clear that most nominees must have had a message set up and ready to go the moment the envelopes were opened.
Of course, any recognition is good. And to be picked out as the best by your peers is particularly satisfying. I still have my players’ ‘man of the match’ award after bossing the midfield and scoring five goals in a Scotland v England under-12s international. Admittedly, it wasn’t an official international; it was set up by the Spanish holiday camp. And some of the England team were playing in flip-flops.
But as my name was misspelt in Letraset on my Big T Club certificate in the holiday camp reception area, what I missed out on was the Awards ceremony… and the ceremony is perhaps even more important than the award.
The BT Retail Week Technology Awards, sponsored by BT Expedite, proved just how special it is to have people acknowledge your efforts and share your moment of glory. It was a massive success, as retail’s IT crowd gathered at the swanky Park Lane Hilton Hotel to toast one another and celebrate the very best in the business – and be laughed at by compère Rufus Hound.
Several BT Expedite clients came out on top at the event – including Aurora Fashions, Oasis, New Look and Mint Velvet, while Halfords with BT Expedite were highly commended. The tone for the evening was set when Retail Week Technology Acting Features Editor Joanna Perry gave a short and sweet welcome speech, before handing over to BT Expedite CEO Rich Lowe, who was equally succinct in noting that “awards are all about people.”
Early next week on www.btexpedite.com, you’ll be able to watch video highlights of the awards and interviews with the winners, as well as photos of the event. In the meantime you can see the full list of winners at www.retailweektechnologyawards.com
The first big winner of the night was Paul Forester of Monsoon who won an Apple iPad in the VIP reception draw for BT Expedite customers. This was the one prize that probably generated the most IT envy…
And while it’s only right and proper that the winners are praised, I have to mention the hard work done behind the scenes which helped make the evening such a success.
I turned up early and got a glimpse of just how much effort goes into getting every little detail just right. There were still teams of busy people beavering away on the finishing touches, right up until the last minute: The bar football tables were being assembled, the cameramen were being briefed on who to focus on and the Awards were being buffed up onstage. In fact I was shooed away when I ventured too close to the podium, because the names were already engraved on the trophies and no-one wanted an explosive exclusive tweet at that stage.
At the champagne reception before the main event, I got chatting to another early bird and, as the room filled up, it was clear he was a well-known figure in retail IT circles. It was his first awards ceremony in six years but, after 30 years in the business, he was spotted and welcomed by almost everyone else who came in – and I was able to bask in his reflected glory. I was devastated when someone pointed out that he should have been in another VIP reception in another part of the hotel! I didn’t even get a chance to tell him about the day Paol Michell played the game of his life for Scotland.
Paul Mitchell, Editor, BT Retailer Therapy