Paul Currie, CEO of U.K.’s Foyles Bookshop, to Speak at Winter Institute on Future of Retail

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Paul Currie, CEO of the United Kingdom’s iconic Foyles Bookshop, will deliver the featured talk “Retail of the Future” on Sunday, January 29, at Winter Institute 12 in Minneapolis.

Wi12 logoFounded in 1903, Foyles, which has seven locations including its famous flagship store at 107 Charing Cross Road, London, was named National Bookseller of the Year in 2012 and 2013 and Children’s Bookseller of the Year in 2012 by the British Book Industry Awards. Currie’s presentation will detail some of the major changes Foyles has made since he was appointed CEO in April 2015. At the formerly quintessentially old-school English bookshop, Currie’s innovative leadership has brought about strong growth and increased market share by implementing a variety of fundamental changes ranging from the merger of online and in-store operations, improving customer service through innovative digital methods, and reconfiguring the company’s operations and logistics.

Currie’s career began at the British multinational retailer Marks and Spencer, where he held senior positions. Later, as chief operating officer at Hamleys Toys, his business strategies took the 250-year-old retailer from a single London store to a modern, global, omnichannel operation.

Paul CurrieDuring his Winter Institute talk, Currie will discuss the future of bookselling and highlight some of the most recent developments at the 114-year-old bookseller. Bookselling This Week recently caught up with Currie to discuss his upcoming appearance at Winter Institute.

Bookselling This Week: Since you were appointed CEO of Foyles, what are some of the ways you have brought a new emphasis on customer service to the company’s business strategy?

Paul Currie: It was clear to me that in the changing retail landscape for books Foyles needed to refocus on its core qualities, which should be great customer service that generates loyalty. While Foyles’ reputation for range and authority is iconic, the operational demands of the business at times became priority over customers.

The first major project at Foyles was to begin a complete overhaul of our customer service, branding, loyalty program, and digital strategy. Customer experience moved to the forefront of our priorities, and Janette Cross was promoted to the role of head of customer experience across the group.

The customer experience program was developed by the team in-house and was built on our core values. This, in turn, led to a set of personal development programs that have since been rolled out, which involved the entire business from the chairman to our part-time staff. All development and buying decisions are assessed using these values, which has been transformational in our business culture at Foyles.

BTW: You have also fostered growth by rethinking the company’s operations and logistics. What are some of the changes that you’ve instituted? Are you pleased with the results so far?

PC: Most recently at Foyles, we have opened new branches in Birmingham, Bristol, and Chelmsford as regional small-format stores that embrace the concept of physical meets digital. Other recent changes include launching the first café concept store in Bristol and implementing Project Barnum, a new multi-touchpoint service training program. We’ve also implemented new digital initiatives at Foyles to enhance customers’ in-store experience.

Other changes and improvements we’ve made include developing a fully omnichannel business, and continuing to invest in the personal development of our employees. We recently launched “Storybox,” a national children’s six-week summer festival across the company, while also focusing on retail standards and visual merchandising skills and developing a range of stationery.

BTW: What do you think readers and book buyers are looking for in a bookstore moving forward in the 21st century? How do your plans for Foyles reflect those customer wants?

PC: Many retail experts refer to the concept of the third space. These are places that we go to for relaxation that are alternatives to our homes or workplaces. They are discretionary places where we choose to go rather than are forced to go. We at Foyles see this as the future. Our focus on social fusions where you can immerse yourself in a coffee or an event is pivotal. We believe this attracts the family customer, which is core to our growth strategy.

Events have long been a central part of Foyles Charing Cross Road (our iconic flagship store) but have now cascaded to all our stores and don’t necessarily have to be purely book-related. Our Storybox children’s festival included a massively successful Lego event where we held workshops on Lego construction to link with the publication of a new Lego magazine. We recognize that we need to be nimble and adaptive to what the customer wants.

The only point of difference between an online and store purchase is the physical connection you have with people. The environment and the social aspect — this is where we are focusing, while our digital offer enriches the “off-store” experience through rich and interesting content.

BTW: How will your Winter Institute featured talk, “Retail of the Future,” map out a vision of the retail landscape going forward?

PC: My aim is to present a lively and engaging story of how we have evolved our concept for the 21st century, how we celebrate the past but always look to the future. Our aim is to be “The Bookstore of the Future since 1903.”

BTW: What is the best advice you have for American booksellers who are looking to sustain their stores during these uncertain economic times?

PC: This is something that I believe and thought from my earliest days in retail and it applies to all service industries: always question what you are doing and listen to the customer. Always look forward, as change has always been part of life and always will be. Remember that the customer always has a choice, so make sure you are the best at whatever you do.

Paul Currie’s featured talk, “Retail of the Future,” moderated by ABA CEO Oren Teicher, will take place on Sunday, January 29, from 2:20 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. in the Northstar Ballroom at the Hyatt Regency Minneapolis.