Having held buying and commercial roles with the likes of Leekes, Furniture Village, Shop Direct and Bensons, Emma is now the director of Furniture and Home at buying group Associated Independent Stores (AIS) …
How might a child describe what you do?
My son can help with this answer … his description of my job is, “You help people decide what goes in their shop, and spend lots of time on calls.” Pretty accurate.
What’s the biggest long-term challenge you face?
In the particular role I have I’m challenged with reflecting, responding to and balancing the views and needs of our members. The AIS member base is very diverse and each business needs something different, so it takes navigating and careful decisioning. On the flip side it is what makes the role so interesting, and I like a challenge.
If you had 10 x your working budget, what would you spend it on?
People, product, processes. I’d invest in training, development and engagement, in accelerated product development, and finally I’d look at IT solutions for the manual processes.
What would be the title of your autobiography?
‘She thought she could, and she did.’
What does ‘work/life balance’ mean to you?
Exactly that – balance. But it’s not formulaic, it’s just important to be able to sometimes flex and be able to break away and prioritise family or your wellbeing. It is so high up the list of employee priorities that it must be front and centre if you want to recruit talent.
Who’s been your most influential professional mentor?
Emma Leeke (MD, Leekes) made a lasting impression on me and my career path. I often hear myself using lines she used, and approaches she took. She really believed in me in the early days and supported my progression. I’m very grateful for her business knowledge and fabulous company on long-haul flights over the years.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I’m not sure I’d necessarily give advice, as I try not to regret the past, and just look forward – the things you do and experiences you have make you the person you are.
What’s been your best day in business to date?
There is not really one day, but more moments – ‘pinch me’ moments, when I reflect on what I do, how much I love it, and that I’m extremely lucky to work in a great industry. The last few months have been some of the best. Joining AIS has been a delight. The organisation has extremely creative, forward-thinking teams and a really diverse supplier base, so I’ve really enjoyed it.
What’s the biggest myth about our industry?
That it is slow paced or old fashioned. Fashion and trends move in home and furniture at a pace – the market is ever changing, so there is never a dull moment.
What should everyone in our industry either stop or start doing?
Start viewing their web presence as their shop window. Much customer research now starts online, so a retailer’s website should portray them in their best light. A customer’s decision to cross a shop’s threshold could be based purely on the impression they get from the website – it’s the best footfall driver. If a retailer prides themselves on range breadth and choice, show it. If they are proud of their highly skilled sales staff, shout about them.
Where do you see the industry going in the next 5-10 years?
With the extra focus consumers have placed on their home, I’d say from strength to strength. Covid has really accelerated many aspects of our industry and given increasing importance to furniture, so we need to hold onto that impetus. It definitely won’t be easy, but we are a resilient bunch.
What question do you wish we’d asked? How would you have answered?
How can we start to encourage younger people into the industry? We need a collective effort – the challenge is greater than one person – but we really should be showcasing what the industry has to offer, and proactively talking to the next wave of possible furniture experts.
This interview featured in the December 2022 issue of Furniture News.