21 December 2012

Perspective talks to retail expert Lyle Finlay about his experiences of working in the sector...

Lyle, firstly can you tell us a bit about your career to date and what projects you have undertaken in an Interim capacity?

I have spent my entire career working within the retail sector. I started in operations and I then moved into general management. During that time, I have worked for such companies as Nike, Claire's Accessories and TK Maxx. To date, I have just carried out one interim role and that was with Tiso, a family owned specialist outdoor pursuit company based in Edinburgh.

What do you consider to be your core specialisms?

As I said, my early experience was gained in operations. However, as my career has progressed, I have become more of a generalist after gaining experience in buying, merchandising and supply chain management; basically the core skills that are required to run a retail business effectively!

Over the past 10 years or so how have you seen retail career evolve?

Retail has evolved a great deal over the last 10 years, and it has now become more focused and KPI results driven than ever before. There is far more emphasis on the customer and how to satisfy their requirements which is good to see. Over the years, retail has also become more of a career path than it has at any other time.

You’ve worked in retail for many years so what do you think are the main challenges the sector now faces?

The industry now faces a number of pressures, not least the spectre of rising costs such as wages, utilities, rents, products and sourcing. Also, during these straitened times, how retailers communicate with their customer base has become essential as the aim for every single one is to ensure it secures all the sales it can.

On the flip side, what do you think are the main opportunities?

Through great product and customer service I believe that there is an opportunity for retailers to relate to customers in a more engaging and relevant way. Simply being good is no longer good enough as customers are rightly demanding more. Successful retailers will figure out what that is and how to deliver it depending on their business. Unfortunately, those who don't will struggle.

The Chancellor has recently ignored the pleas from the retail sector to freeze business rates. What do you think the Government could – or should – be doing to help?

I firmly believe the government must recognise that retailers need real and effective help with their ever increasing occupancy costs. It goes without saying that business rates are the fairest and best way to start to tackle the issue.

After years of cost cutting & rationalisation, do you think retailers need to start investing in their people, stores and e-commerce platforms if they want to secure long term success?

Cost cutting will only deliver short to medium term benefits and in order to be successful in the longer term, organisations need to invest in their people, IT infrastructures and e-Commerce platforms. Successful businesses in all sectors need to understand how vital having the best talent on board is and those who recognise this - and then retain them - will have a brighter future.

You held a variety of senior positions for a long time so has your attitude towards Interims shifted since moving onto the other side of the fence?

My attitude to interims has changed dramatically as I can now see that an interim can bring a quick and effective solution to many recruitment problems.

With that mind, what do you think are the main benefits for retail organisation that employs Interims?

The main benefit has got to be that the organisation gets someone with the correct and most suitable level of experience necessary. Also, they can hit the ground running which allows them to deliver quickly.

Finally, any words of advice for readers of Perspective who may be thinking of becoming an Interim?

I thought about becoming an interim on a number of occasions and at the beginning of this year decided that I would take the plunge. I have found it rewarding and enjoyable and I would recommend anyone thinking about doing it to just do it!


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