THE BIG INTERVIEW: Meet the new man running Pandora UK

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With a background in retail and passion for learning and development, Brien Winther has joined Pandora as the jewellery giant’s new managing director for the UK. Here, he sets out his plans for the first 12 months, and gives an insight into his management style…

When Brien Winther first started working for Pandora, he was only meant to be helping out the business for three months during the summer holidays of his job as a secondary school teacher.

Winther laughs as he shares that the three month contract extended to six months, followed by 12 months, and then when David Allen became president of Pandora for Australia & New Zealand, he asked Winther to join the team full time.

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Now, over five years later and time spent as the brand’s president for Australia & New Zealand, Winther has joined the UK team as the new managing director — a job he tells Professional Jeweller editor Stacey Hailes he accepted in a heartbeat.

Professional Jeweller: Why did you decide to leave your position in Australia and take on the managing director job in the UK?
Brien Winther: It took me about two seconds to make the decision when David asked me. The UK business is a fantastic business and has been very successful over a long period of time. To be offered the chance to come across here was both humbling and a real honour. And to come to London and to work in the heart of retail is just phenomenal. I’ve always wanted to work overseas.

PJ: What are your first impressions of the UK market?
BW: I’ve met quite a few franchise partners already and my first impressions are that they are passionate about the brand, it’s great to be part of the brand, and we’ve obviously been quite successful over a period of time but I still think there’s opportunities in the business. The team [at head office] are also extremely passionate about the brand.

PJ: Has anything taken you by surprise so far?
BW: No, nothing has really taken me by surprise but I haven’t seen a lot as yet. I’ve visited a number of stores. I came up late last year for a couple of weeks and went and visited some stores, other than freezing in Leeds, nothing really surprised me.

PJ: Is the UK market very different to the Australian market?
BW: No, it’s very similar. We sell the same product, in the same store layout. People who sell our product love it, they are passionate about the brand and the storytelling, they are passionate about the consumer, so it is very similar. One thing that did surprise me though, before Christmas, was how busy the stores were — the queuing! We have stores in Australia that have queues, but I guess it’s a population density that’s thicker here. It’s not a great consumer experience.

PJ: Is there anything you can do to prevent the current queuing system you witnessed?
BW: I think there is. That’s one of the opportunities in the business — to think about how we can serve customers more quickly, and more effectively, at busy times. What happens at the moment is everyone queues up and all the customers are treated the same. So if you wanted to buy a gift card, you are in the queue, if you wanted to buy a gift, you are in the queue. What we’ve got to do is give those people a service where they buy a gift, which they think is appropriate, but sort of treat people a little bit differently in that queuing process. I also think there is a role that technology can play. Now we don’t use any connoisseurs services at the front of the stores, we don’t do mobile selling, we don’t do mobile payments, so I think there are some opportunities around that which can speed up that process. Still make it a personal one for those people who want it, but make it a little bit faster.

PJ: What do you have planned for the first 30 days in your new role?
BW: The calendar looks very full. Meet as many franchise partners as possible, get to know the team in here, and visit as many stores and make sure I know and understand our franchise partners. It’s a dangerous place to run a retail business from behind a desk. So you need to get into the stores and find out what is going on out there. That’s not 30 days or six months, that’s my role. My role is to find out what our franchise partners want, what our teams want and what our stores want. I’ve got a number of appointments this week and I will continue to meet those retail partners. Meet them one on one, but also meet them in their store environment. I’ve been out to visit stores with a number of our sales team and it is an ongoing process.

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PJ: What can retailers expect from you as the UK boss of Pandora?
BW: The first thing is I am a retailer. My background is retail, so I have a real affinity with retail and store managers and store staff. I understand that my role is to generate profits for our retailers. We can’t grow unless they grow. We can’t be profitable unless they’re profitable. I am a retailer. I will talk their language. I want to get into stores, I want to find out what is happening in stores, and I will talk a lot about operational improvements in the business. How do we do more with what we’ve got? How do we make sure that our teams are able to provide a great consumer experience? Because at the end of the day consumers come back to where they’ve had a great experience. It’s not about product and price. It’s about the experience and if you want to improve the consumer experience, improve the experience the store teams have. You can’t deliver a great consumer experience if the people working in the store aren’t having a great time. That for me has always been the fundamental of retail. So I have a real focus on operational activities in the retail store. I really believe that the most influential person in a retail business is the store manager. If you want to have a great retail business, you’ve got to have a great store manager. So when I talk to our partners it will all be about how to improve our store managers. How do we empower our store managers to give a great consumer experience? With a brand like Pandora we’ve got to make sure what the customer sees and what the customer feels enhances that perception of our brand. I will put a lot of emphasis on making sure that we look after our store managers. That we empower them to make decisions around the consumer experience and give them as much learning and development as we can.

PJ: How would you describe your management style?
BW: I don’t think you can run a retail business and not be hands on, it’s a hands on business, and my area of passion and expertise is in learning and development. How do you make sure people are having a great time when they come to work? How do you make sure that they have the skills to do the job? One of the things about the Pandora business is it is sort of in transition of going from a wholesale business to a retail business. Our mindset is still not quite there yet. We want to be a retailer. We want to think and act like a retailer and the difference between retailers and wholesalers is retailers think about consumers, wholesalers think about partners, stores and developing those. In our business we have to think very much about the consumer and how do we make sure that consumer is getting a great experience.

PJ: Is there anything you implemented in Australia, which you will be bringing to the UK?
BW: I think what I touched on before about the consumer experience — the technology part of it. We were lucky enough in Australia to have developed quite a lot of sophistication in our technology, and saw some real advantages in that. It is something that I would like us to find ways of using. I think the UK business and the Australian business are quite similar in terms of age and maturity. And businesses that go through those cycles of maturity need to be reinvigorated from time to time. The one thing that I know is, if you continue to give customers a great experience, they will continue to come back. So everything you do has to be around giving that customer experience. Have you got enough people on the shop floor? Are you putting stock away during the day or when the consumers are there? When your store is open are you 100% focused, 100% of the time on that consumer? And so often in retail businesses there are a thousand things to do, but they should be done when there are no customers around. One of the things that I have noticed when I’ve gone out to the UK stores is our store managers are not 100% focused on their consumer because they have so much else to do. And what we’ve got to do is take that away and let the store managers look after their consumers.

PJ: How did you manage that challenge in Australia?
BW: First thing is making sure that the tasks that you have to perform outside of serving customers can get done without impacting on the customer. Particularly in large stores where deliveries of stock arrive, put them away before or after hours. The supermarkets do it really well. You need a rota set up so you can recover your store while there are no consumers in the store. Given that we do have a lot of consumers, we’ve got to make sure that we are able to serve them in a personal way, without being rushed, but also at the same time they don’t have to wait a long time. The challenge will be how far is up? How much can we do? I think there is a lot more we can do. Shift set up and stock receiving away from the consumer hours and the business goes up. The other thing that happens is the store teams like it more. For instance, at Christmas time and Mother’s Day in Australia, in our big stores, we would quite often have a shift from 6.30am-10.30am. That team get the store ready and then they walk out the door and all the people starting at 10am have to do is worry about selling. The people who have done the early morning shift love it because there are no customers, they turn the music up, they sing and they talk. They get the shop ready. That’s their job. And then the people coming in to sell don’t have to worry about it. It changes people’s mindsets.

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PJ: In light of your buying back programme, what direction is Pandora UK heading this year in terms of the ratio of Pandora self-owned stores and franchise shops?
BW: We don’t have a very strong opening programme this year, we have opened a lot. We are sort of just having a breath at the moment to have a look at our network. But our model is franchise. Our own store network will still be less than 10% of the total network. Our revenue is generated through franchise partners. I think when you run a franchise system you have to have owned stores because you have to learn lessons and you have to trial things and test things and I think one of our challenges in the UK is to make sure that the owned business is world class. We need to be able to show franchise partners that we can run a world class retail business.

PJ: Last year Peter said it would be the ‘year of the earring’ for Pandora, what will the focus for 2017 be?
BW: The year of the consumer. We have tried to expand our jewellery offering beyond charms and bracelets. Perhaps four or five years ago we were heavily charms and bracelets, then we moved into rings and that is a solid percentage of our business, then necklaces and earrings last year, so I think as we expand our jewellery offering that’s great because it attracts more customers, it attracts different customers. We should never lose focus that the core of the business is still bracelets and charms and we are the world’s best at that, but for me, my focus will be about the consumer. How do we give the consumer a great experience and show them all of our jewellery? If you come in to buy rings, how do we show you our bracelets? It’s a different consumer, especially a person who buys rings is typically a younger consumer, but we’ve got to make sure we show them all of our product and not become singularly focused on a category. To do that you need to make sure your store managers are looked after and empowered.

PJ: You’ve spoken a lot about the importance of store managers, how do you plan to empower them in the UK?
BW: A lot of businesses, retail businesses, lose sight of who owns the consumer. And therefore they develop policies and procedures and guidelines, but at the end of the day, the store manager and the store team own the consumer. If the consumer has a problem, we need to solve that problem in the store, using the staff’s best judgment. Our role is to support that judgement and not set up guidelines and policies which inhibit someone making a rational decision. The worst phone calls I ever got in Australia started with “Brien, can you tell me what our policy is…” because you inferably know that that’s not about the consumer. And, so we’ve got to empower our store teams to make decisions to look after the consumer and support them. As a consumer you know if you have a problem with a product and the person says to you I need to check with our manager about that, or check our policy, your blood starts to boil and it starts a tension, but if they say “I can solve your problem now for you” that’s great. And 98% of people who walk into our stores with a problem, are genuine. Are you prepared to upset 98% of your customers just because 2% of people don’t do the right thing? You sort of have to swallow your pride and say I know that person is taking me for a ride but I don’t want to let that person dictate how I treat the rest of these people. Otherwise you don’t give a great consumer experience. That is about the store teams and store managers feeling empowered to make decisions and not thinking ‘I wonder what Pandora is going to say’. Pandora is going to say give them a great experience and we will be ok. Look after the consumer.

This feature first appeared in the Feb 2017 issue of Professional Jeweller. Read more here.

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