Spotlight on Retail
In this edition of our Spotlight on Retail series, we spoke to Kevin Rusling, the COO at Mothercare. Kevin shares the fascinating journey Mothercare has been on and how the pandemic has ignited positive and lasting changes.
Give a brief introduction to yourself and Mothercare
Let’s start with Mothercare! After the difficulties of placing our UK business into administration in November 2019, it has been a case of rebuilding and rescuing an iconic brand. We design, develop and source childrenswear products for sale in over 1,000 stores around the world, through an amazing franchise partner network.
I started with Mothercare three years ago and have been Mothercare’s Chief Operating Officer for just over two years now, working alongside my colleague, Andy Cook we have led the transformation and team to rebuild the business.
What have been the main challenges that you have faced since the beginning of the pandemic?
First and foremost is the health and well-being of our people. Many of the team had seen their colleagues lose their jobs as a result of the administration and naturally had felt somewhat guilty that they survived. The team experienced 5 challenging months before the Covid pandemic started to bring the Mothercare brand back, but despite everything, the team has done an incredible job to work under such pressures. I’m extremely proud.
“First and foremost is the health and well-being of our people.”
On the operations front, six times a year we’d normally have over 40 franchise partners fly into the UK to attend buying events to see everything that Mothercare has to offer – which involves them viewing and feeling the product before ordering it. Given the flight restrictions in place, we had to completely change the way that we sold the brand to those partners. We were forced to adapt quickly from a rather old-fashioned physical event, to 100% online, but we wouldn’t have made that change so quickly and benefited from this new way of working if it hadn’t been for the crisis.
In terms of supporting customers, what have you been able to achieve as a result of the pressures of the pandemic?
As a franchise, our customers are business to business rather than business to consumer. Our business customers all faced store closures which meant we now had a major role in helping our partners develop online sales channels. That’s everything from providing high quality photography, to social media assets, to enable them to digitally sell Mothercare in each of their individual markets.
Manufacturing was problematic too given many of our factories were closed due to Covid, so we had to look at what we were making and plan for when our stores reopen. We needed to understand what life was like for our customers right now and what they were going to need from us over the next two to three years. We commissioned global research in 8 of our largest markets to ensure Mothercare produces products that met those needs.
So looking to the future, how do you expect the pandemic will change the retailers and the way in which they support customers?
What we’re trying to understand now is, if we are going to have more consumers online, how are we going to support them in a stage like prebirth? For example, ‘I know or suspect I’m pregnant but don’t want to walk into a shop yet, I’m in my research phase.’ So, we wanted to become an expert and a company with a point of view that understands what is happening to the customer at that moment in time.
“We are rebuilding our product roadmap to deliver to the needs of parents of the future.”
Another thing high on our agenda is sustainability. There’s been a lot of negativity around fast fashion or ‘throwaway fashion’. We have parents that think ‘i’m going to keep this garment because it might be good to hand down when I have my second child.’ We’ve been looking at all those different behaviors in different countries around the world and understanding where it changes. We are rebuilding our product roadmap to deliver to the needs of parents of the future.
Can you tell us about your current customer facing technologies?
We utilise social channels to great effect, like for example the 2 am club which is a Facebook Live community where we have a midwife facilitating questions. The parents are often talking about feeding routines and are given the opportunity to ask questions and speak to each other. There are similar things that our customers love such as new Mummy meetups which are facilitated through our social platforms.
Also as stores closed due to COVID, we replaced them with personal shopping. Customers were able to book an appointment, and have that personal shopping experience too which was incredibly useful throughout the pandemic.
What are your ambitions for 2021 and onwards with regards to supporting and engaging customers?
We want to be the global parenting specialist – whether you are at pre-birth stage or you have a 10 year old child. So, we’re rebuilding our channel strategy and our brand strategy. We’re not a retailer anymore, we’re an operator of a brand with franchise partners running the retail stores. And of course, we are rebuilding all of our product offerings!
“2020 is what we called ‘the rescue’ and 2021 is ‘the rebuild’.”
2020 is what we called ‘the rescue’ and 2021 is ‘the rebuild’. Last year was about making sure the brand survived and 2021 is all about rebuilding . After conducting our consumer research, it’s clear that there are clearly defined life stages, for example, feeding, sleeping, bath time, educational child play etc… We know which of these are most important to our consumers and we’re rebuilding the business with our customers at the heart of every decision we make.