Q&A with Andrew Jennings, Retail Leader and Debut Author

By   Hannah Bickerton 4 min read

Over the course of his 45-year career in retail, Andrew has led some of the world’s most respected high-end, specialty and department stores.

Having recently launched the next chapter of his international career as Senior Retail Advisor, Chairman and Board Member, Andrew is now permanently based in London working with retailers, private equity companies and consulting groups. These include Ted Baker PLC, Hema Europe, Curzon Cinema, Myer Australia and MAF Ventures in Dubai.

Almost Is Not Good Enough is Andrew’s debut book. All profits go to Andrew’s favourite organisation, The Prince’s Trust.

Did you receive any advice early in your career which had a great impact on you? 

Issy Sharp, the Founder and Chairman of the Four Seasons hotel group world wide, once said to me ‘Andrew, with every interaction in our hotels, we polish the brand or we tarnish the brand. Every single interaction, from the bell boy, right through to the maître d’, plays its part.’ These are the basics of customer service, and I’m always surprised at how many retailers don’t heed this advice.

I also learnt a valuable lesson from Ira Neimark, the former Chairman and CEO of Bergdorf Goodman. Ira agreed to work with me as an advisor when I was CEO at House of Fraser, and, when I asked him for his view on the secret to retail success, he said ‘You have to have tight inventory management. If something is not selling, it is like a dead fish in a barrel. It stinks after a while.’ Ira’s advice is even more relevant today.

The internet has obviously radically transformed the retail market. What do you think will be the next ‘big thing’ in the future of retail? 

I talk about Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality in my book. There have been some fun applications of this, from Topshop’s waterslide through Oxford Street, to more practical applications, such as Ikea’s app that allows you to see its products in situ. I don’t think we’ve seen the best of what AR and VR can do for retail yet.

In the future, I think we’ll see different technologies coming together to create a more physical/digital shopping hybrid that will ensure personalisation and convenience for time-starved shoppers.

Image result for andrew jennings almost is not good enoughWhat inspired you to write Almost Is Not Good Enough

Four years ago I was speaking with a good friend of mine, and he turned to me and said ‘Andrew, you should write a book’. I didn’t think anything of it at first, but it stayed with me. I’ve been fortunate enough to have a privileged career that I’ve thoroughly loved, and have been successful at. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve made my mistakes, but I have learnt from them, and I have learnt from them quickly, which is key. I’ve also learnt from my successes.

Looking back on these experiences, I felt inspired to pass them on others, whether at CEO level – which can be a lonely position at times – mid-management, or those starting out their careers in the industry.

I have also been inspired by my work as Chairman on the Retail, Leisure and Hospitality Leadership Group for The Prince’s Trust. We have been able to help disadvantaged, out of work, young people carve out careers for themselves. All proceeds from sales of my book are going to The Prince’s Trust.

You’ve worked at some extraordinarily famous high street brands. Can you give us some examples of what you would classify the best sort of department store? 

The department stores I most admire are those that have fewest stores under its umbrella, and therefore can best manage a consistent and strong point of view. Fortnum & Mason, Harrods and Selfridges, for example, have such a recognisable brand identity. This is more than just marketing; when you enter a Selfridges store you know instantly its Selfridges, by the store layout, the products on sale and the visual merchandising. Selfridges is also excellent at delivering experiences for its customers that go above and beyond pure shopping, giving shoppers a reason to visit the store again and again. The customer wants and expects experience, discovery and the right merchandise in store these days.

What are you reading at the moment and what’s next on your ‘to-read’ list?

I currently have three books on my bedside table. Churchill & Chartwell: The Untold Story of Churchill’s Houses and Gardens by Professor Stefan Buczacki. I have read endless books about Churchill, I admire his strong leadership, determination, and focus. The second is Bill Bryson’s The Road to Little Dribbling. The humour that Bill Bryson brings to his writing is unparalleled in my opinion. The final book is Ken Clarke’s Kind of Blue: A Political Memoir – Ken Clarke is somewhat of a maverick, and, whether you agree with his policies or not, it’s a very interesting reflection on life in government.

I am also very excited to be attending the launch of James Bidwell’s new book, Disrupt!: 100 Lessons in Business Innovation, next week. That is next on my to-read list.

Hannah Bickerton
Hannah Bickerton
Hannah has worked in marketing for nine years, specialising in strategy development for start-ups and EdTech companies. Having recently jumped across industries to join the Whitefox team, Hannah isn’t a complete stranger to the publishing world with previous employment at Macmillan and TES Global. She is now dedicated to ensuring that anyone who has something interesting to say knows all about whitefox.