Q&A: Darren Williams, Interim CEO of SCRUBD.
An expert at our Digital Retail Transformation Webinar on September 9-10, Darren Williams is currently Interim CEO of SCRUBD and MD at Williams Harding Consulting. Having formally held Senior roles in a number of businesses in retail and hospitality, including Hotel Chocolat and Unilever, Darren is also a Trustee at Action 4 Youth (www.action4youth.org).
Can you tell us a bit about your background?
Retailer to my boots! It was the first ‘proper job’ I ever held down – Radio Rentals at age 17 and they took me under their wing and taught me my early years of the industry! It was an awesome education and I had my own store at 19, and the largest in the country by aged 21 – I was ridiculously ambitious by then! It was then retail all the way, many years in fashion retail, my 5 years at orange which still has a special place in my heart, onto food and bev at Whitbread (costa) Argos, Hotel Chocolat, Paul then Unilever! It was in 2018 I set up Williams Harding and via that business I became interim COO of SCRUBD in April 2019, then Interim CEO a year later – its been quite the ride.
Can you describe your current role, and where it sits within the organisation?
Interim CEO of SCRUBD (as well as MD Williams Harding Consulting)
I lead the various aspects of the business from commercial, managing partners, working with our agents and distributors, and our manufacturing process of course. I also work alongside the founder and Chair of SCRUBD, Mark Helvadjian, as well as our NED Charles Davies. We are a small team but we are all very different, and as a result work really well together.
Over at Williams Harding I’ve been lucky to work with some other awesome retail and hospitality clients as well as a PR business. I love all my clients but a real favourite was my time at Corbin and King and working on The Wolseley retail rollout – what a brilliant organisation with a wonderful culture.
Can you tell us what your company does?
In a nutshell, Natural Mens Grooming, all made here in the UK. Award winning skincare and bodycare – we are super proud of our products and I am even prouder of our new look launching August 2020 – a lot of work has gone into this behind the scenes.
What’s special about your company? Is there a particular gap in the market you are trying to address?
We sit firmly in the mid to premium price bracket, and if you look on the shelves for mens grooming you see its awash with ‘mass market’ brands or super premium. We wanted to have a range that was all natural, did what it said was it going to do, and could make a guy feel they had a regime they could trust and go back to time and time again. Its also very accessible, and with our new look range, more eco and more user friendly. We’ve tried to think about everything from the end users mindset – I am really proud of it. We all are.
What challenges are retailers facing in 2020 and where do you see UK retail in 2021?
Well apart from the global pandemic that is Covid-19 of course! There was already so much ‘fault line’ in Retail, not just in the UK but Globally too. It was a bit like skincare in some ways, there is/was this huge amount of mass market stores, sure they fill a purpose and they trade mainly on value, then you have the middle market where often boring shops are filled with adequate to woeful customer experience through to the super premium of Old Bond Street. Shoppers have more choice than ever and retailers have struggled to find a compelling way to find and communicate not only their purpose but to give the customer a reason to visit. This has just all been super magnified by the pandemic and with a second lockdown not yet able to be ruled out, it would be premature to prophesise what lies ahead in 2021.
It has astonished me how many ‘experts’ have led webinars all obsessing about whats coming next – how about deal with the now and the very big to-do list you had before covid-19!? The only thing that knows how this is all going to play out – is the covid-19 virus itself. Its path dictates everything now.
How will you address these challenges and turn them into successes?
Pivot, play, test, but deal with your immediate challenges as well. And deal in the now and take each week as it comes and be agile. Stop obsessing about what might happen, be ready for anything, and run your business in the moment. This is NO time for procrastination which was always a pet hate of mine in the best of times. Some retailers have made an art out of it.
What is on the horizon for you as a company? We are now in 6 markets, so with our new range launch we have this renewed platform for growth and the opportunity to work with more partners and markets. It’s tough though, we are still an emerging brand and the retail backdrop means the landscape is more challenging than it may have been before – but we are in great shape with an amazing product, so we feel hopeful.
Are there other companies you partner with that help you achieve your goals? (That you’d like to share).
We are always open to interesting collaborations, one such example recently was our work with the Sweatcoin app – it was a brilliantly received promotion and had sold out in one weekend.
On a personal note, what are the key challenges – and most rewarding aspects – of your role?
I am a brand man, in the sense I need to believe in what a brand stands for, and how it resonates with me personally. I could not work in a role if this wasn’t aligned. Every week is different is SCRUBD, we are a real mix of start up and expansion and some fix work all rolled into one – so its never boring and there is zero room for ego – things need to be done and we just get on and do it.
How has your previous retail experience helped you in your current role? Massively so, I’ve worked in global matrix organisations as well as small start ups and all in between! Its given me a huge breadth of knowledge and I like to think that understanding of the industry, front and back of house, the importance of team and the mind of the customer has all served me well here in SCRUBD.
What advice would you give someone interested in a career in retail?
Leave your ego at the door, work hard and be brilliant with customers. Remember you need your colleagues. And keep evolving – don’t stay in one place more than 5 years – keep learning.
If you’d like to hear more from Darren, register for our Digital Retail Transformation Webinar on September 9-10.
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