R: Hello Laura, would you like to tell us a bit about yourself?
LC: A pleasure to meet you and your followers! I'm a mum of two who's spent the last 9 years working in digital retail, specialising in luxury fashion. And I'm a keen Restory advocate! Leather goods are an investment and it's fantastic to find a service which can enhance the life time of cherished pieces. You've even looked after shoes that will pass from one daughter to another.
R: Your career history has been very impressive - How did you break out into the retail e-commerce world?
LC: I started my career in legal regulation which was fascinating but I wanted to move to London to be with my then boyfriend, now husband. I landed a great job at Tesco.com, joining a small team specialising in improving the customer offer and profitability of the grocery delivery service. That was my first commercial role and really ignited my passion for retail, e-commerce and the customer experience.
R: What advice would you give others who wish to follow your lead?
LC: Become an expert. Talk to everyone and anyone you can, read avidly, network, go to industry events, pay it forwards and be passionate. You'll differentiate yourself by focusing on an area that really excites you. The more senior you get, the smaller the world becomes and the more you realise that the people you started out with are also now, or will be senior, so build your network from the beginning. Also I think it's important to recognise that you'll only ever have a few great teachers or mentors you'll meet in the journey of your career, embrace them and nurture your relationship with them. I recently attended a talk which described building a personal board of directors: think of yourself as a company with a particular objective. "Appoint" members to your board who can help you achieve your objective and who offer you different perspectives. This is a great tool to structure your approach to developing yourself.
R: What has been a defining career moment for you?
LC: I guess the biggest step change is my career was moving into the private sector. Tesco.com was a baptism of fire as I immersed myself into the commercial sector, but it taught me so much about retail; it used an early omnichannel model and I worked with teams of very smart and motivated people. The most accomplished I've felt at work was the day we opened the third warehouse for Net-a-Porter in Hong Kong. It was a huge programme spanning the entire company and being a part of making it happen felt incredible.
R: Do you see any important digital changes coming in the next few years?
LC: After a slow start the luxury sector has embraced the digital world in the last few years, with most luxury brands and retailers now having some sort of e-commerce offering and digital marketing strategy. As brands continue to develop their understanding of the way their customers interact with their touch points (ranging from stores, digital marketing, social, websites, apps, advertising, customer service etc), we'll see fewer instances of a disjointed approach like seeing Facebook ads for products we've already bought. Retail will also adapt to become a much more integrated digital/physical experience allowing brands to augment their services and ranges using digital platforms. It's easy to forget how little retailers and brands knew about their overall interaction with customers until this century. Another key change will be the size of brands' digital businesses. Typically e-commerce will represent 5-10% of net revenues, with a few exceptions like Tory Burch who receive around a quarter of their revenue online. The increased visibility of things like pricing across the world that websites provide has already forced some changes in the way brands behave globally; Chanel lead the luxury space by announcing last year that they would standardise pricing globally.
R: How do you balance being a career woman as well as having children, what advice would you give to other mothers?
LC: Don't try and have it all!! I'm definitely no expert at this and it's hard, but having had a few months off it's definitely given me a new perspective. I have to be ruthless about what's important and focus solely on those few things. Everything else has to wait. There's so much pressure to be the perfect mum, colleague, boss, school rep, wife, hostess etc and you really can't do all of it. I think that we also need to start a shift towards this question also being asked of men; the burden of childcare still falls to women, society calculates the cost of childcare against the woman's wage.
R: When you are not working or with your children, how do you like to spend your time?
LC: I've been able to get involved with my daughter's new school; learning phonics and new ways of adding and subtracting! I've also been mentoring for SheSays since I finished my last job and I have a very motivated young mentee. It's amazing how fulfilling sharing your knowledge and experience is. For myself, I've spent more time focusing on dressage, something that's taken a back seat until recently. It's a detail-orientated discipline, a great work out and gives an incredible sense of achievement when you master a new component.
R: I think you have amazing style - What influences you? How would you describe your personal style?
LC: Thank you, you should've seen my school uniform! (It was purple). My style was definitely influenced by spending time in the Net-a-Porter offices. The day I resigned, I was on the phone to my boss and someone walked past in fabulous pink fluffy platforms and I thought how much I'd miss the office; I loved Net-a-Porter for the sheer variety and creative of how people dressed. You'd get wedding worthy and slumber party outfits all in the same day. My style has definitely become more relaxed as I've got older, but I do love an excuse to dress up!
R: I know that you have been renovating a house in the Cotswold - Can you tell me more about this?
LC: I grew up in a very old black and white cottage that my parents renovated themselves over a 30 year period. This has had a huge impact on how I view the places I want to live and restoration in general. I'm a sucker for character. I remember the first time my husband and I were house hunting and being so grateful that he was taken in by character too. We bought a Victorian property that we brought up to date, retaining the old bedroom fireplaces and glorious coving. We both grew up in Stratford upon Avon which is on the edge of the Cotswolds and after getting bad food poisoning when I was pregnant with our second daughter I suggested that as we'd always held a dream of buying somewhere in the Cotswolds perhaps we should just have a look.... That weekend we found the house online and after several months of conveyancing, it was ours. I don't think we really understood how much work it would take to make it the house what it is today, but we've had an amazing experience with a local builder and after two years we head up here as often as we can. The rest of the time it's available as a holiday let.
R: So tell us about something you really love and that you would love to see carefully restored, and why is restoration important to you?
LC: I've walked past the same building every day for 7 years, Blythe House opposite Olympia. It had a starring role in the recent Tinker Tailor, Solider Spy movie and is currently home to the V&A, Science museum and other stores. It's the most incredible large Victorian building that is crying out to be modernised, hopefully sympathetically; acknowledging the modern way of living but keeping original features. So many houses in the local area have been renovated and lost their character; they can sometimes feel a bit sterile as a result. By contrast, I love the Norman Foster roof across a rear courtyard at the Asprey and Co store on Bond St for juxtaposing the old and new and creating an intimate characterful atmosphere inside. Everything old and new tells a story so the restoration of buildings in need of a bit of love is an opportunity to retell its story.