‘Our Christ­mas ad­verts have trans­formed how we speak to our cus­tomers’

Anna Berry is head of buy­ing for Christ­mas at John Lewis & Part­ners. She lives in Kent with her hus­band and three chil­dren.

Good Housekeeping (UK) - - Women Who Lead A -

s some­one who works in the Christ­mas in­dus­try, peo­ple are sur­prised that I still love the fes­tive sea­son. It’s the most won­der­ful time of the year and I feel lucky to play a part in it through my job.

I joined John Lewis & Part­ners 30 years ago as a grad­u­ate trainee and, af­ter stints on the shop floor, trans­ferred to buy­ing. In 2015, I be­came head of buy­ing for Cook & Dine – in 2017, they added Gifts, which in­cludes Christ­mas, so this year will be my sec­ond over­see­ing Christ­mas buy­ing.

We say we ‘own’ Christ­mas and feel the coun­try looks to us to de­fine the fes­tive sea­son. We sat down to start plan­ning Christ­mas 2018 in April 2017! This year, it’s all about our seven colour schemes, in­clud­ing Moon­stone, Emer­ald, and Sap­phire. We al­ways search for the new­est, most ex­cit­ing Christ­mas tree, with this year’s be­ing a rain­bow one. We’ve also col­lab­o­rated with Qual­ity Street this year, so cus­tomers can per­son­alise their tin and choose which va­ri­eties they want in it – you could have only Big Pur­ple Ones!

Buy­ers have to be bold and tena­cious. The hard­est times in my ca­reer have been when trade is chal­leng­ing. My job at the mo­ment is to ask my teams why we aren’t hit­ting our tar­gets, while ac­knowl­edg­ing that the mar­ket is dif­fi­cult, then de­vel­op­ing an ac­tion plan.

De­spite spend­ing three decades at the same com­pany, I’ve never done the same job for more than three years. I’ve had a non-lin­ear path partly be­cause I’ve had three kids. I went part-time af­ter my sec­ond child and I wouldn’t be here with­out flex­i­bil­ity. Ev­ery time I’ve asked about chang­ing roles or flex­ing my hours, I’ve been al­lowed.

I didn’t ex­pect to reach head of buy­ing be­cause I’d taken so much time out with my chil­dren, but I re­turned more fo­cused each time. The trav­el­ling in­volved was hard when my kids were young and I tried to limit long-haul trips. My hus­band trav­els for work, too, so it’s a jug­gle! My mother-in-law lives two doors away and is very sup­port­ive. I’ve felt guilty, but the im­por­tant thing is that my kids see their mother work­ing and are proud of me, even if my son did once call me ‘head of wooden spoons’!

I run a team of 60 buy­ers, ju­nior buy­ers and as­sis­tants. On Mon­days we dis­sect the past week’s trad­ing. My days com­bine work­ing with buy­ers on strate­gies, go­ing to shops and meet­ing col­leagues across mar­ket­ing and strat­egy teams to dream up creative prod­uct launches. You never have your best ideas at your desk, so I’m try­ing to be more ag­ile and have meet­ings out­side.

As a leader, my style is open and my team know they can be hon­est with me. I’m here to steer the ship, not tell them what to buy. But for buy­ers, there’s noth­ing more ex­cit­ing than see­ing your vi­sion come to life in store.

Our Christ­mas ad­verts have trans­formed how we speak to cus­tomers. They used to be cor­po­rate, but now they’re more emo­tional.

My own fam­ily has a tra­di­tional Christ­mas. My rel­a­tives travel over from Ire­land and I’ll cook a turkey din­ner for 15 peo­ple, even though I’m veg­gie! When it comes to shop­ping, I do it both on­line and in store.

There are lots of long-ser­vice staffers here – I was in a meet­ing with two oth­ers re­cently and be­tween us we’d clocked up 100 years! I love the com­pany – it’s not per­fect, but it tries to do the right thing.

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