Interview with a Head of International Development – Retail

A/N  This week my interview subject is a fellow Old Rishworthian alumni. I hope you’ll enjoy reading her journey and the advice shared.

Tell us a little about your career and how you ended up where you are today.

From setting up shop with my cash register as a little girl I knew I wanted to be in retail. Somehow over the years I now am still in retailing, and now have the privilege of travelling all over the world looking for new retail opportunities with a great brand. How cool is that?! I always think I have been lucky, but my friends remind me that it is me who has found and made the opportunities.

What makes someone good in your chosen field?

Opportunity driven, understanding both your customer and client, loving your brand, long hours and sheer determination! Listen more than you speak. Consultation, persuasion and selling skills are critical.

What mediums/areas do you mostly operate in?

International Retail Development and Franchising.

What can be challenging about your profession?

Long hours and flexibility to be available 24/7, this is retailing. Jet lag and chronic tiredness. Demanding customers, clients and bosses. Life never stands still so you need to be flexible and on the ball.

What do you most like about your profession?

The buzz of making things happen. Easy measurements for success. Seeing results. Every day is different.

What has been your most embarrassing professional moment?
Announcing the wrong speaker at a huge conference I had organised. I wanted the floor to open up. I don’t think it bothered anyone else but I hated making a mistake!

What has been your most nerve-wracking professional moment?

Negotiating and landing a big contract.

What one piece of advice would you give someone starting out their careers; especially in your field?

Believe in yourself at all times.You can make anything happen if you have the will and determination.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

Build up as many contacts and connections as you can. If you find someone interesting who makes you rethink things see if they will mentor you.
Read articles, chat, listen and learn.
Don’t forget your family and friends.. You can’t bring back time..

Helen Barnish, Hamleys of London
Helen Barnish, Hamleys of London

Helen Barnish is Head of International Development – Retail, Hamleys of London. Researching new markets to expand to, and contracting new Partners

An Interview with a Head of Marketing

A/N  I remember our current interviewee as a young girl at Rishworth School. It’s wonderful to hear about her career journey.

Tell us a little about your career and how you ended up where you are today.

I am currently the Head of Marketing at our family business Lanes Group Plc. It’s a company providing blockage clearance services for drains and pipes. There are currently 1260 staff at 25 operating centres located around the UK.
I started working directly from school with very few formal qualifications.

The first family business that we had, Neolith Limited, hired out high-pressure water equipment to people and companies for a variety of cleaning and descaling tasks. Initially, I ran the hire desk. It was a very pressurised role that required a lot of customer contact and organisation to keep the customer happy and deliver what they expected. I gained vast experience in dealing with customers and understanding their expectations.
For a short while, I left the business and went to live in the Canary Islands where I secured a job in Tenerife narrating fashion shows and selling fur coats to tourists. I was very pressurised selling with long hours. But I survived. When I returned to the UK, I secured a job managing a ladies fashion shop in Halifax. That job was great fun. However, I do remember losing sleep when I had to deal with my first shoplifting issue.

After a couple of years away from the family business I returned to Neolith and then started working with the sales team, providing support and creative ideas to ensure that our customers fully understood what services we provided. It is here where I found my passion and creative skills for sales and marketing. It’s hard selling engineering equipment of any description; people normally only look for this type of equipment when they have a need. You don’t create the need for the customer.

In the early 90’s that business was sold. Initially, my brother and I stayed with the company, but we were then both made redundant 5 years to the day that the sale went through!. Business can be very harsh at times because we both thoroughly enjoyed our roles.

My father, a true Entrepreneur, had in the meantime bought a new business Lanes for Drains. It was still in the very early stages of growth and couldn’t sustain two more salaries immediately. I was also 3 months pregnant when I was made redundant and back in the 90’s employers didn’t readily take on women who were pregnant. I was fortunate because some of the customers who I had worked with for years at Neolith Limited approached me directly to help them build their fledgling businesses and do a sales and marketing role with them.

I duly started my own consultancy business Ringland Associates. I had five different customers who I worked for one day per week. The companies were varied – one was an insurance company, two others building contractors, one a retail organisation and finally one day per week was spent working for Lanes for Drains. It was an interesting time in my life. Juggling a brand new baby, plus a three year old, running a home and five demanding clients was hard work. I hadn’t actually finished work for any maternity leave when my son Matthew decided to make an appearance 3 weeks early.

Eventually, after 3 years of doing consultancy work Lanes as a company was developing fast and my father persuaded me to close down the consultancy practice and join Lanes for Drains, that was 19 years ago. Sales and marketing and dealing with customers directly have always been a passion and so working with the sales team here at Lanes is where I have dedicated most of my working life.

What makes someone good in your chosen field?
Understanding your customer is critical to ensuring that we provide the services that they need. Thinking outside the box is also fundamental to being creative, and marketing our business in a different way to our competitors has also been high on my agenda.

What mediums/areas do you mostly operate in?
Direct mail was and still is the backbone of our business. Creating ‘prompted recall’ so that when the need arising for someone to call a drainage company they know or have heard about Lanes. Over the past 10 years the move to electronic communicate with our clients has been embraced wholeheartedly. I love the speed in which social media and the web can generate interest and enquiries.

Exhibitions are something that I used to love attending, but I really do feel that the exhibitions are dated and stale. I would love someone to develop an idea that brought people together in an effective manner. I do miss the face to face contact that used to come with customers attending exhibitions.

What can be challenging about your profession?
As the company has grown the changing responsibilities of the company to our staff and customers. It’s no longer acceptable to just provide a service. Now we have to provide that service in a responsible manner for both our staff and customers, ensuring that we align ourselves with their business objectives.

What do you most like about your profession?
I love the contact that we have with customers directly. All of the senior management team at Lanes have to sponsor specific accounts so that they interact with our customers. If you stop dealing with customers on a day to day basis, I firmly believe you quickly lose sight of what they expect and need from us as a company.

What has been your most embarrassing professional moment?
That’s easy. Last year, I attended a tender meeting at a large utility company. The contract was worth several million pounds a year, so it was an important event.

There was only a hand full of ladies in the meeting, and so you do stick out in a sea of suits. After the meeting, as a group, we were all walking back to the car park that was quite away from where the meeting had been held. I was walking back with a group of people who had been at the meeting, chatting away, when I went flat on my face on the pavement.

The men with me were so gracious and kind. But I died of embarrassment – the contents of my handbag were strewn over the road, black opaque tights ruined, and my dignity on the pavement too. One gentleman offered to go and get his car to drive me back to the car park, but I insisted that I was OK. I was so embarrassed I could have died. I think that was the longest drive home I have ever had.

What has been your most nerve-wracking professional moment?
I have them frequently, so there isn’t one that stands out. I wouldn’t change that because I believe it helps mould the individual and ensure that it keeps you on your toes. If you don’t experience nerve-wracking moments whatever they are, then how do you learn?

What one piece of advice would you give someone starting out their careers; especially in your field?
Michelle Ringland - Head of Marketing Lanes GroupDon’t be afraid to ask for people’s opinions and reflect on them. You learn by listening.

Michelle Ringland is the Head of Marketing, Lanes Group Plc
www.lanesfordrains.co.uk

An Interview with a Ghost

My younger self - Kashmir
My younger self – Kashmir c1977

Do you remember wondering what you would like to do during your late teens and early twenties?

When I was making the transition from educational life to working life, I was keenly interested in career options and in hearing about others’ experiences – particularly if they were in a field I was considering.

It’s occurred to me that, within my network alone, there’s probably several hundreds of years’ worth of experience and insights, which the young me would have found informative at that stage in my life.

The idea of sharing with the younger generation appeals to me, so I’ve come up with the “Interview With A (job title)” series. I’d love to know what you think of the concept and if you’re willing to contribute.

Here’s the first instalment

Interview with a Ghost

I:      How did you get into ghost writing?

G:     By accident, or serendipity … I’ve always written, since I was a kid.   In my working life, I was asked to write skits, newsletter pieces, marketing collateral, training material.   Mostly corporate stuff.   About 8 years ago we were managing an international event for the not-for-profit sector and needed a no-cost means of promotion.   So I wrote print media community interest pieces which journos ran under their own by-line.   It worked really well.   The event had participant numbers equivalent to the Winter Olympics.   That was really the start of my ghost writing.

I:      What makes a good ghost writer?

G:     Understanding the target audience and having a good handle on the personality, or entity, you’re ghosting.

I:      How do you achieve that?

G:     I’m from a sales background, which is all about representing your organisation and communicating their product or service in ways that are relevant to the target audience’s interests and motivations.   With ghost writing, you’re putting yourself in another person’s shoes and thinking from their perspective.   We (Dragon Sisters) use a range of tools and research to get to know a client and their audience, to make the content authentic, personalized and engaging.

I:      Who uses ghost writers, and why?

G:     In my field, public figures, professionals and all kinds of businesses and organisations use ghost writers for promotional purposes.   The reason is that they are too busy and or, they don’t know how to write strategic, engaging content themselves.   There’s a surprising number of PR agencies who sub contract to us.   Audience engagement and growth is faster and more effective through social media and on-line platforms than any other professional and business development means.   In marketing terms, strategic content creation is king.

I:      What mediums do you mostly write for?

G:     Blogs, articles, newsletters, marketing collateral including websites and of course, social media – mostly LinkedIn and Facebook.

I:      What can be challenging about your job?

G:     Writers block! It can be a bit of a challenge since all my work is deadline dependant. Weirdly though, I often come up with better stuff working under pressure than when I’m cruising.   Luckily!

I:      What do you least like about your job?

G:     Time zones.   Sometimes I’m racing to beat the clock at 2am because I know my client across the globe will be getting up and getting on line then.

I:      What do you most like about your job?

G:     Great clients!   Many of my clients are over-seas or inter-state so I never get to meet them face-to-face, but ghosting them creates a unique relationship; they trust me with their reputation and that creates quite a bond.   I really like all the clients I work with.

I:      What has been your most embarrassing professional moment?

G:     I wrote a bit of an off-the-wall skit for a national conference when I worked with Vodafone.   I wasn’t told ‘til the 11th hour that I’d be the one to deliver it.   I had to wear a ridiculous get-up and I had the public speaking skills of a sausage.   Thank God there were no iPhones or social media sites back then!

I:      What has been your most nerve-wracking professional moment?

G:     Appearing on the Bert Newton Show.   (It was a long-running Australian national TV show).   That was a horrible 10 minutes which felt like 10 hours.   I was so nervous I thought I would throw up over the presenter; a very elegant, popular presenter named Moira.   (Moira was very thin – it’s true what they say about the camera adding pounds – and next to her, I looked like a nauseous blimp).

I:      What one piece of advice would you give someone starting out in your field?

G:     Where I started out and where I’ve ended up (so far) are really different places and I’ve taken some circuitous routes, during which I’ve learnt that nothing is ever wasted in terms of building experience and skills.   So my advice would be:   when an opportunity presents itself, even if it’s apparently not on the trajectory towards your immediate goal, make room to accommodate that experience; you never know where it might lead, even much later in life, and there’s no substitute for experience.   If you want to write, a wealth of experience makes for a nice fat memory bank – which is a great resource for any writer to have – and especially for a ghost writer, where you have to relate to a diverse client base and target audience.

Photo of Yvonne Toering
Yvonne Toering 2015

Yvonne Toering is a business development consultant and ghost writer with Dragon Sisters, Australia.