‘No crisis at Carphone, we are in a fantastic position’

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Store closures, high-profile staff departures and redundancies have led some to wonder if the retailer is in trouble. However, its new retail director tells Michael Garwood the exact opposite is true

Looking over some of the headlines in 2012, you’d be forgiven for thinking Carphone Warehouse was a company in crisis.

The year started badly, with the retailer closing down all 11 of its Big Box Best Buy stores less than 12 months after they had opened – putting an estimated 1,100 jobs at risk.

More negative press followed with the high-profile departures in quick succession of UK MD Matt Stringer and retail director UK Anthony Hemmerdinger ahead of 200 redundancies at the retailer’s Acton headquarters.

The industry has subsequently been awash with rumours suggesting all is not well with the retail giant. So is Carphone Warehouse really a company in crisis? According to Hemmerdinger’s replacement, Sam Tyrer (pictured), who took up the mantle in September, this is far from the truth.

Speaking to Mobile News for the first time since taking up her role, she says: “That’s absolutely not the case. It’s a really challenging environment and with the backdrop of the economy, that has made things particularly tough. But I speak with confidence in saying we are in a fantastic position.”

So what of the redundancies and exits? Hemmerdinger, Tyrer says, simply wanted to return to Sainsbury’s, the company he had left the year before.

Stringer, on the other hand, left because UK CEO Andrew Harrison wanted to regain more control of the UK arm of the business following Best Buy’s collapse in the UK, she adds.

These developments are just part and parcel of business, Tyrer claims – and ones which, while regretful, will not have an adverse effect going forward, she says.

“Matt felt it would stifle his ambition around driving the business the way he wanted to,” Tyrer reveals. “We tried desperately hard to keep Matt in the business.”

Tall order

Tyrer’s job is a big one. She is responsible for the upkeep, look, standards and performance of the firm’s 800 retail stores and for ensuring its 2,000 full- and part-time retail staff provide what she describes as the “best” customer experience on the high street.

No easy task. But Tyrer is no novice and comes into the job with a wealth of experience which she believes makes her ideal for the role.

Prior to taking up her current post, Tyrer had spent five years working in various other roles at Carphone including customers and stores director for London and MD for online solutions.

Her job gave her considerable experience working across Carphone’s “value” brands, e2save and Dial a Phone. These experiences, Tyrer claims, have equipped her with an “incredible” commercial and business vision.

She says: “I’m not new to the business, which gives us a fantastic advantage. I have come back to retail with a fresh pair of eyes and can absolutely see where the opportunities lie for us – and to really stamp our heritage credentials back on selling phones on the high street. There’s plenty to get stuck into.”

Tribute

Tyrer exhibits an enthusiasm rarely seen at this level, and while she is confident in her own abilities, she is keen to pay tribute to her predecessors who, she says, have allowed her to hit the ground running.

She explains how both Stringer and Hemmerdinger spent considerable time over the past year updating the firm’s back office processes and systems to help reduce the level of paperwork each store is required to do.

This, she says, will enable staff – and indeed herself – to focus more on the shop floor and capitalising on sales opportunities.

“Ultimately there is no difference in terms of outlook to the change in leadership,” Tyrer says.

“Matt and Anthony focused an awful lot on operational standards – really improving on how the stores operated in terms of the back office processes, cashing up, deliveries and returns, which needed to be brought up to scratch.

“We are a business which has grown really quickly and some of the processes have lagged and not been brought up to modern-day standards. We wanted to be slicker and faster, and they have been fixed.

“They have left me with a really nice platform and I am much less focused on things which are less customer-facing.

“If you are working in say HMV, your process is all about fast replenishment and being effective at the till. For us, our key process is talking to the customer and assisting with the sale.”

Understanding

Tyrer feels Carphone now has an advantage over some of its rivals after a recent internal restructure which was designed to gain a greater understanding of the customer.

Its new ‘customer solutions group’, she claims, enables the firm to be more strategic in the buying of stock, be it handsets or accessories, to help boost sales as well as drive footfall.

Tyrer admits Carphone previously stocked particular accessories and handsets in its stores based on a combination of “gut feeling” and previous knowledge and experiences.

“We operate in a much more multichannel way now, and ultimately the creation of those groups means everything delivered into the channels puts the customer at the heart,” she says.

“So much more insight is being done now and we understand exactly what our customers are wanting. Now we are developing a proposition which is customer-tested and is driving footfall into the stores. The whole process is now so much more collaborative in the business and without a doubt when things land in the stores we absolutely know what we are getting.”

Full article in Mobile News issue 536 (April 8, 2013).

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