Navigating the Crisis | Jonathan Baker on leading Turnbull & Asser through Covid-19
“The change in the way people shop has fundamentally altered our approach to channels and loyalty. We will be investing in both physical and digital; in our flagships, as the complete and total brand experience, and in ways to bring that experience to our digital platforms to create a more holistic and rich engagement with our customers.”
As the second week of reopening begins, we spoke with Jonathan Baker, the Managing Director of gentleman’s bespoke shirtmaker Turnbull & Asser, on how Turnbull has adapted to cope with the crisis, and why he remains confident for the future of the 135-year-old business.
How have you navigated Turnbull & Asser through the COVID-19 crisis?
In line with experiences across all industry, the crisis has been challenging for the business and for the individuals that make up the organisation but, thanks to the support of the owners and an incredible team who have demonstrated resilience, flexibility and commitment we have been able to react to navigate the evolving circumstances effectively and will continue to do so as we move forward.
What has the situation taught you about leadership and your business?
It has reminded me just how critical communication is in leadership, particularly in the unnerving and fast-changing situation created by the COVID-19 pandemic. The move to remote working also requires a change in internal communication strategy to ensure the wider business knows what is happening. It is also important to be decisive as a leader and offer a clear way forward strategically, but of course be open to discussion and to change. This has been incredibly important recently as along with everyone else, I have never been through a situation like this; it’s unchartered territory, and to navigate it successfully, it’s important to listen, respond, and remain agile. We have had some very passionate and constructive conversations over the last three months and we have made good decisions as a result. Being a vertical business, we were also able to respond to the crisis with positive action, which really helped to bring everyone together during a difficult time. Turning our hand to the production of scrubs for the NHS provided new purpose while our own manufacturing and operations took a backseat.
I knew before the pandemic, but the last three months have underlined that we have a very committed, adaptable and talented team here at Turnbull & Asser. In spite of the challenges we have faced and those that are sure to come, I am confident about the future. We have grown as an organisation and as individuals through this shared experience and we will be stronger as a result.
How was reopening? What measures have you put in place to protect staff and customers, and how has this impacted on the way people work and shop?
In line with government guidelines we have implemented measures to create a safe environment for our staff and our customers. We have restricted access and provided masks, gloves and hand sanitiser stations throughout the stores. Due to our location on the corner of Jermyn Street and Bury Street, we have also been able to dedicate one door for entry, and another for exit. This along with a slight reconfiguration and re-merchandising of the store, allows for swift and easy shopping, while helping to minimise any unnecessary interactions. We are fortunate in that we aren’t a heavy traffic store, and I am confident that even with these measures in place, we can provide an excellent service and experience. For those who aren’t able or comfortable to visit the shop in person, we’ve also expanded our range of remote concierge services. As well as personal shopping via phone or video call, we have also added a new live-chat feature to our website, which connects shoppers directly to an associate in-store. Through this, customers can have a tour of the store, view the product in detail, and receive personalised product and styling advice, at their convenience, from wherever they are. This not only elevates the online experience for the customer, but it also allows our associates to remain active and productive, even when the store is quiet.
What do you see as the potential long-lasting changes to your business?
Given the physical restrictions that have resulted from the crisis, consumer behaviour has changed significantly, and I don’t think things will just go back to how they were before. We have traditionally made a clear distinction between our retail customers and our e-commerce customers, and encouraged loyalty within those channels. The change in the way people shop has fundamentally altered our approach to channels and loyalty. We will be investing in both physical and digital; in our flagships, as the complete and total brand experience, and in ways to bring that experience to our digital platforms to create a more holistic and rich engagement with our customers. As a business we will be less focused on individual channel performance and more customer-centric, meeting and servicing their needs, wherever they choose to engage with us. We are also responding to this change in consumer needs with our product offering. Shirting and bespoke remain at the absolute core of our business, but in this time, we’ve seen a great response to our Weekend collection and more relaxed styles, and we see this as a growing category for Turnbull.
And finally, how have you, on a personal level, dealt with lockdown?
Adapting to working from home wasn’t the challenge I thought it would be, and I have been pleasantly surprised just how productive we have remained as an organisation. The real plus side of lockdown has been the opportunity to spend more time with my wife and our two young children which has been truly amazing.
If you are a leader of a British luxury brand and HAVE THE TIME TO TALK TO WALPOLE – AND THE WIDER LUXURY SECTOR – ON HOW YOU ARE NAVIGATING YOUR BUSINESS THROUGH THE CURRENT COVID-19 CRISIS, PLEASE CONTACT JENNI RAYNER ON JENNI.RAYNER@THEWALPOLE.CO.UK.