The power of our alumni in retail

Successful retailers offer a vibrant, creative and varied career. The sector represents one-third of UK customer spending – and arguably accounts for an even greater proportion of its strategic innovation and ingenuity.

Newspapers are full of negative stories about the future of retailers. Headlines warn of high street gloom as stores shut their doors. According to research consultancy Retail Economics, there are 290,000 retail outlets in the UK – half as many as in the 1960s. Slow wage growth, Brexit and the growth of online retail (now 17.2% of all shopping according to the Office for National Statistics) continue to worry bricks-and-mortar stores. Ian Smart, our Head of Retail and Partner says: “It may look like a straightforward sector of shifting products. But there are many related skills and competencies required in a successful retail business. And that suits us: we are proud of the diversity at Grant Thornton. We encourage our people to be individuals.”

Trust, growth and place

Ian believes our firm prepares its alumni well for a later career in retail. “We’ve built our purpose around three pillars that resonate with the retail sector. The first is trust – and maybe retail has lost that a bit. We work with retailers to see how they can rebuild the trust and confidence that their customers have in them. The second is working with them to unlock the potential for growth, particularly in dynamic businesses. The third is about creating environments where people and businesses can flourish.”

While risk is ever-present in retail, the reward can be seeing your influence on the business help establish sustainable growth, concludes Ian. He says: “Creating efficient supply chains or getting merchandising, advertising and branding right have all been traditional retail skills. But now we are seeing the introduction of data, analytical skills, online presence and analysing in-store experience. Successful retail businesses need a much broader range of skills – and that means they are a really invigorating career option.”

Life post-Grant Thornton

Lauren Battrick, Analytics and Insight Manager at Sainsbury’s Argos was previously an audit assistant manager at Grant Thornton. After five years in the role she decided she did not want a long-term career in audit. Instead she decided to commit to one employer, and in December 2016 joined Sainsbury’s Argos.

It wasn’t the most obviously attractive choice. Earlier that year Sainsbury’s had acquired what was then an underperforming business in a deal the Financial Times reported had left major shareholders sceptical. But this was part of the attraction for Lauren: “It was an exciting time with a lot of change that I really wanted to be a part of. And I thought, if it doesn’t work out, at least I’d experienced it.”

She joined a fledgling financial analytics team. It was looking for innovative ways to increase profit and provide insightful data to the business. “We’re using a lot of technology, dashboarding tools and databases,” explains Lauren. “I work a lot with non-finance teams. It helps me to look at things from a very different point of view.”

Now Analytics and Insight Manager, Lauren’s work at Argos involves a deep dive of each category area one at a time. “We’ve developed a database that allows us to analyse profitability at product level. We’ve never had that level of insight before. Then we create ideas of how we can make changes using it. We’re working with commercial teams and it’s an insight they’ve never had.”

Her work directly influences Argos’s plan to integrate online and offline business – the ‘bricks and clicks’ as it is known in retail circles. Over the past 18 months, the business has focused on developing its ‘store in store’ model, and there are now more than 200 such Argos outlets based within Sainsbury’s stores. Lauren says Sainsbury’s Argos has adapted to the changing shopping habits of customers. This type of innovation gives her huge job satisfaction and helps her focus on the wider commercial environment. “In future, I don’t want to move into a financial reporting role,” she says. “I want to develop my team, help it grow within the business, and deliver more benefits for the customer and for us as a business.”

Tom Duance, a Senior Trading Finance Manager at understands that successful online retailers grow by acting on insights from data. This can give the finance function a direct link to a business’s strategy.

He joined the online retailer in November 2013 from his transaction services assistant manager role at Grant Thornton. At boohoo he leads a team in commercial finance that analyses all aspects of trading performance, sometimes hour-by-hour. Every Tuesday morning he gives the directors a performance report on the previous week’s business.

“Being online, we’ve got access to all the data on an almost real-time basis,” says Tom. “We’re constantly reviewing what promotions are working; what marketing channels are driving good traffic and good sales. And we’re getting heavily involved in ad hoc projects as well. For example, if we’re considering launching a new delivery service or a customer proposition in a certain market, we model the impact on the financial performance, customer retention and customer acquisition.”

The advantage for internet-only businesses is they can track the purchasing behaviours of customers, rather than just aggregated sales data. The challenge is to use this to find what is and isn’t working, and use it immediately to improve performance.

Tom explains: “If we have a recommendation or the data is telling us something, people aren’t scared to act on it and then assess the impact. The business can go live with your recommendation within a few hours. It’s rewarding to see that.”

To find out more about other former employees that are part of our alumni, read our latest magazine.

Alumni magazine
To find out more about other former employees that are part of our alumni Read our latest magazine.