Seasalt’s CEO on business after lockdown

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When Paul Hayes joined Seasalt in 2013, it was a small regional business with 11 stores across Devon and Cornwall. Under his leadership, it has built an international reputation on its coastal charm. It now has 70 stores in the UK and Ireland and around 400 stockists across the UK and Europe.

On Thursday, Hayes took part in a Drapers Connects online interview to discuss how the business has navigated the coronavirus crisis and what the future holds as lockdown eases. Here are the highlights:

Engaging with consumers through the crisis 

“We are seeing people spending more time reading emails. In the past, email was seen as something that was potentially dying, but we have seen more interest. We’ve seen customers using desktops more over this period, when before everything was shifting towards mobile. 

“We took a good look at our content and assets we had available [as the crisis began]. We have always been good at how we market, but we have taken an extra step to link more with our customers. They don’t just want to be sold to from a product perspective. It goes deeper than that.

“Through this period, people have got their hobbies going again and we’ve supported that. A lot of our content has been about activities rather than just product.”

Plans for reopening

”We plan to open 34 stores on 15 June, with the remaining half to follow around about two weeks later.

“Clearly, social distancing will limit the number of staff and customers we can have in store at any one time, but we have done a lot of work understanding the number we can have in each store. 

“One aspect we are trialling is how we can use appointments. We plan to open from around 10am to 4.30pm, leaving time either side of the day for appointments, but there may also be certain parts of the day that we’ll give over to appointments.  

“It’s a form of personal shopping but it does mean, in the situation we’re in, it’s a safe way of doing so. 

“We have a comprehensive plan that reflects safety measures for customers and staff. Quietly in the background we’ve been running webinars with management teams to talk through how stores are going to work and the safety measures. Area managers are working in the business getting things prepared.”

On digital transformation

“On 3 March, we were in a group board meeting talking of future plans and our digital transformation project and [as the crisis developed], that very quickly moved towards continuity planning and identifying that this was going to be a far bigger deal. 

“We have over 1,100 employes and, at the height of the pandemic, had around 841 furloughed. However, one area we continued with dedicated resources [through the crisis] was on the web replatform programme.

“We recognised that in order to keep up with growth in UK alone we needed to invest in UK site. Historically, our international online sales have come through the UK site, so we were conscious that we need to change that and make sure we have international sites up and running, and trading in local currencies. 

“I am hoping that next week the first stage of that happens, where we will have an Irish site up and running as a first trial. We still hope to have our new UK site and international capabilties up and running in August. 

“Online, in the period from the start of April to end of last month, we are trading 37% up on last year. 

“We are also striving towards [digital improvements to product development] as a secondary part of our digital transformation. We have been working on a number of technology related projects with the product teams linked to sustainability, travelling less and having less samples in the business.”

Stock management during and beyond coronavirus

“We looked early on at what product strategy would look like into next year. As a brand, we have concentrated on full-price sales over the years, certainly the last two or three, so the answer was never going to be to go into promotion and Sale activity. 

“We are reinventing the product line for next year, and some of our current stock will be used again next year. Similar themes will run through the business both on a spring summer and early autumn winter basis. 

“We haven’t promoted product heavily at all and our intention is to keep that going. We see the stores not opening in Sale but instead going to Sale later in the summer. 

“The vast majority of our wholesale business is still very much independent led. We’ve worked closely with our wholesale partners on spring stock, and are currently talking to them about autumn/winter and how we will deliver that. We are spending some time looking at our product calendar and seeing how we can realign things. 

“It might mean we go to market with our wholesale partners slightly later than we do at the moment as it realigns our calendar in a better way.

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See the rest of the Drapers Connects schedule and other on-demand videos here. More digital events and live content will be annouced soon.

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