AGM report | March 2017 – March 2018

As I begin my second year as Walpole’s Chief Executive, the report of Walpole’s activities over the previous 12 months offers an excellent opportunity to look back at what the organisation has achieved on your behalf, and also to share with you how we have been investing your membership fees in the work we do to protect, develop and promote the British luxury sector.

Walpole’s work has two central pillars – Global British Luxury: how Walpole helps its members and the sector as a whole to maximise business opportunities overseas, and Luxury in the Making: Walpole’s focus on developing a strong talent pipeline at all levels, and how we shed light on British luxury brands’ commitment to long-term sustainable employment in the UK, whether in manufacturing or service industries.

The notion of ‘Global British Luxury’ cannot, of course, be seen in isolation from the disruption of Brexit, and Walpole’s Thriving After Brexit report informed our approach to helping members navigate the uncertainty Brexit poses. We ran a series of events, looking at the impact on talent, on Article 50 and on practical steps businesses could take to hedge against possible outcomes after March 2019. The event series culminated with a breakfast with Keir Starmer, Shadow Brexit Secretary, as well as an update of our work.

In addition, Charlotte Keesing and I worked hard throughout last year to secure Walpole’s relationship with our fellow European luxury sector associations within ECCIA; in or out of the EU, UK luxury will continue to be affected by EU legislation and ECCIA gives us a continuing influence when it comes to issues that affect the sector. 2017 also saw the culmination of several years of our work with ECCIA to secure the right to Selective Distribution, with the Coty ruling last December. Meisterkreis conceived of a new pan-European gathering of luxury leaders with the inaugural European Excellence Summit in Berlin last year, and this has paved the way for new, valuable conversations between luxury leaders across Europe. Walpole took a delegation of nine member CEOs and combined the Summit with activity at the British Embassy with HM Ambassador Sir Sebastian Woods and the CEO of KaDeWe.

Walpole also took the decision to focus on the world’s largest luxury market, the US, for an annual British luxury showcase and trade mission. The inaugural mission took place between the British Consul General’s offices and Spring Studios in Tribeca and media coverage is still coming. We will continue to anniversary the activity. In other key markets, Walpole has continued to assist member brands, notably in gaining a foothold in Korea and Hong Kong.  Importantly, we know that the richer the experience of British luxury a visitor to the UK has, the more appetite there is for buying from those brands when back home. To that end, we continue our government lobbying with the Chinese Visitor Alliance, to persuade government to create a visa system that allows the UK to maximise the opportunity of this valuable customer group. We have also focused our engagement with Westminster on the Department of International Trade and Investment, not only as Chair of the Consumer Goods group with the APPG for international trade and investment, but also with GREAT, which contributed to the US mission, and also Antonia Romeo, Permanent Secretary of the department. The group of Walpole brands brought together for the APPG, also forms Walpole’s Export Strategy group, helping to steer Walpole’s thinking when it comes to overseas opportunities for the sector.

Developing people and skills has long been part of Walpole’s commitment to the sustaining the long-term health of the sector. ‘Luxury in the Making’ allows us to expand our focus beyond Brands of Tomorrow, which nurtures fledgling luxury brands, and the London Business School MBA programme in luxury management, fostering the skills of the future c-suite. We launched a new programme to connect luxury brands with their local schools to talk to 11 & 12 year olds about employment opportunities in the sector, have begun work on creating an apprenticeship in luxury retail sales. The Women in Luxury programme is investigating why there is not a more robust pipeline of female talent coming through to C-suite and beyond. Craftsmanship is fundamental to the luxury experience, although Crafted: Makers of the Exceptional programme has been put on pause for 2018 to allow us to establish how we can open up a bigger conversation about luxury craftsmanship that helps a greater number of brands and has a wider impact on members. In 2017, we celebrated the tenth anniversary of Walpole’s flagship programme, Brands of Tomorrow, with an external PR and advertising campaign, focusing on the entrepreneurial characteristics of the British luxury sector. The 2018 intake of brands means that Walpole has so far nurtured 96 founders, many of which have now become global players.

If a key external focus was to reinforce the power of the collective voice of British luxury and to amplify its significant contribution to the economic prosperity of the UK, our focus internally was to strengthen the organisation so that we could increase the value we deliver to membership. In the autumn we were able to grow Walpole’s membership team; Stephanie Robinson joined us as full-time Head of Membership, and Rosie Mason was promoted to Membership Executive: the rationale for this was to increase and enrich engagement with existing members, but it has also had the unexpected welcome impact of bringing in new members, with the membership growing from 160 in February 2017 to 209. In January, we re-framed how we work with our commercial partners. ‘Corporate partners’ have become ‘Strategic Partners’, reflecting the role they should play in helping British luxury businesses flourish;  ‘corporate members’ are ‘sponsors’, and we created a new, top tier – Patron.

Walpole was also delighted to welcome three new board members: Justine Picardie, Editor in Chief of Harper’s Bazaar and Town & Country; Philippe Warnery Senior VP and General Manager of Estee Lauder Companies UK and Ireland, and Mark Harvey, MD of Chapel Down Wines and Spirits. We also created two non-board Chairs: Nick Temperley, of Diageo, Chairs our LBS programme, and Meribeth Parker, of News UK, Chairs Women in Luxury.

I am also delighted to tell you that Walpole is now steadily building its financial reserves, helping to ensure the long-term stability of the organisation.

The launch of a new content programme has also had a powerful impact on member engagement: we relaunched the website in June 2017, and re-booted the Daily Digest to include new daily content to tell the story of British luxury, from the leaders to the workers, with interviews and news from brands produced in-house by the Communications and Content team. Our reach has grown from 1,000 to a total digital reach of 20,000. We also redesigned every element of the Walpole Yearbook, adding a more tactical dynamic distribution model and an original new design, adding a high-touch experience of the sector to high tech with digital content.

Events have always been the cornerstone of Walpole’s member activity – Walpole is luxury’s most powerful off-line social networks, bringing members together to create lasting, valuable connections with each other. Last year we hosted 35 member events, anchored by the British Luxury Awards, hosted at The Dorchester by Catherine Zeta-Jones and with a global PR reach of 80 million. Other notable speakers included Tristram Hunt at the Creative Dinner in October, Sir Keir Starmer at our Brexit Breakfast, and Carolyn Fairbairn, Director General of the CBI at our annual Chairman and CEO dinner.

The last 12 months has laid the foundations of a strong, purposeful organisation fit for the next 25 years – with your continued support, Walpole will achieve its aim of getting British Luxury the recognition it deserves.

Helen Brocklebank, CEO, Walpole, March 31st 2018.

Please click to read the AGM report April 2018
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