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We are working with Christopher & Banks in its search for a VP of Ecommerce. Christopher & Banks Corporation is a Minneapolis based company that specializes in women’s apparel. The firm was founded in 1956 when Gil Braun opened his first Braun’s store in Minneapolis, MN.
BTW: Would you believe that Minneapolis is one of Travel + Leisure’s Hottest Travel Destinations of 2013? Yep. Evidently, it’s like a little slice of Scandinavia right here at home, and I understand that the smörgås are to die for. Yum!
Christopher & Banks offers updated classic styling in quality products at a great value. The firm provides a fresh and colorful mix of clothing and accessories for every season, creating looks that work for the working woman’s lifestyle.
The company’s stores are bright and inviting and its store associates assist in making its customers’ shopping experience enjoyable through genuine and honest wardrobe consulting. In addition to greater convenience for its customers, C&B’s ecommerce business offers an expanded assortment of sizes, lengths and colors. Currently, the firm operates 686 stores offering missy and petite sizes in addition to catering to plus size women offering sizes 14W to 24W.
The VP of Ecommerce is responsible for collaborating with cross-functional partners (Store Operations, Merchandising, Marketing and I.T.) to manage all aspects of the eCommerce business including business planning, content strategy and development, promotional campaigns and other online marketing, product merchandising, website design, customer service, web analytics, and web technologies. This position is responsible for the development and management of the user experience of the online direct sales business including site navigation, content, development, checkout funnel, and promotional campaigns.
HARRY’S COMMENTS: It’s always a good sign when, in order to be awarded a search, I must pass muster on a conference call with officers of the client’s company. It’s an even better sign when the company’s CEO participates in that call. It tells me that the search is a high priority.
Such was the case with this VP of Ecommerce search for Christopher and Banks.
According to company executives, the company has accomplished many of its goals in a very short time. It finished the 1st quarter with $40 million in cash and will remain cash neutral for the balance of 2012. The company has no debt, its margins are strong, and it has a great executive team. Its ecommerce platform and fulfillment are handled by GSI, and the client assures me that the company has the ability and the determination to take its online business to 20% of the company’s total sales.
After only 4.5 years online, C&B is ranked #276 in the Internet Retailer Top 500, with 1.5 million monthly unique visits, a very low bounce rate, and a 5% conversion rate. Yet the company is just scratching the surface in terms of its ecommerce business.
As C&B’s new VP of Ecommerce, you are inheriting a great situation.
Internally, the big debate is whether the new C&B should have extensive brick-and-mortar retail experience. Strictly speaking, it’s not a requirement, but it would be nice: C&B store associates are encouraged to drive customers to C&B’s website to order out of stock items.
The goal is to drive multichannel growth, and if that means leveraging the store ordering system to complete a sale for in-stock or exclusive lengths and fits or exclusive categories, then so be it. It’s all about helping loyal store-only customers become web purchasers through enhanced product offerings and a better site experience. Some stores do utilize C&B’s product outfitting & messaging to familiarize themselves with other options for their “friends” / customers.
Yet the success of C&B’s online business has stirred a friendly debate between C&B’s customer acquisition team and its merchants: What else should we be offering online? At what point is a new product popular enough to be distributed through the stores? How different can / should the selling story be between channels? What’s the best way to match supply and demand across multiple channels?
As the new VP of Ecommerce, you’ll want to get involved in these discussions.
C&B’s affiliate and email channels are in good shape, and a relatively small percentage of its new customers come from search engines. There appears to be an opportunity to develop relationships with brand ambassadors through social media. The C&B market is very well defined and “self-referencing.” Meaning, these people talk to each other and follow the lead of key influentials within the C&B community.
So, who exactly is the customer?
The average age of a C&B customer is 55, with an average household income of $65-$70,000. Almost all of these customers are Caucasian. Two thirds of the company’s customers work full-time or part-time, and half one third of its customers work in the healthcare and teaching professions (what’s called “pink collar”). She’s busy, too, and she tends to consolidate her shopping trips – so she’ll buy dresses, outerwear, and other new items from C&B if she feels that they were designed exclusively for her (which plays right into C&B’s heritage as a designer).
The customer tends to be somewhat conservative in terms of how she spends, what she’s influenced by, and how she views the economy. She is not a fashionista, and she tends to be immersed in her faith, family, and community. She absolutely looks for genuine, honest & knowledgeable guidance on her wardrobe / outfit selections. The interaction and advice is an essential part of the C&B experience.
Yet C&B wrestles with the same issue as LandsEnd, Coldwater Creek, and other clothing merchants: How can we remain true to the values of our core customer while gaining relevance among younger buyers? Different merchandise would be one answer, and a hipper UX would be another. Or distinctly targeted brands to reflect the differences in how each C&B customer thinks about herself and the world. As the new VP of Ecommerce, we need your analytically-informed voice on these critical branding and positioning issues.
Three Questions Great Job Candidates Ask
There is an excellent blurb in the October issue of Inc. magazine called Three Questions Great Job Candidates Ask. (Oddly enough, for the online edition the article has grown to five questions!) Here are the print edition’s three questions along with my answers as they pertain to this role:
What are a few things that drive results for the company? In C&B’s case, there are three things: Product, Merchandising (both online and off), and CRM. Promotional strategy will be important when it comes to determining approach online vs. stores. It is believed that customer acquisition will be driven by better product and merchandising.
What do you expect me to accomplish in the 1st 60 to 90 days? Although there are many opportunities to hit the ground running, Christopher and Banks would expect you to do an assessment of the team and the design of the ecommerce organization. “Do we have the right people on the bus, and are they seated in the best places for their skills and abilities?” Additionally, Christopher and Banks’ management is reviewing their platform needs in light of the firms growth objectives. The client believes very strongly that C&B’s ecommerce business could (and should) reach $100 million by EOY 2015.
What are the common attributes of your top performers? Company executives agree that Christopher and Banks would consider a Director level candidate for this VP level position. But you’ll have to be incredibly business-oriented in order to take a holistic view of C&B’s business in order to grow an omnichannel ecommerce business that enables the firm’s customers to leverage digital technologies across every customer touch point, whether they buy online or not.
You’ll also need some expertise in the area of marketing strategy in order to help the company manage its branding and positioning evolution. Finally, you will need fantastic people skills to enable you to grow the business in a way that is hard on the issues and soft on the people.
Beyond these things, knowledge of key site operations in order to lead the efforts in driving the engagement on the site & compel her spend & frequency of visit.
Other winning attributes would include: Platform / web re-design experience; the ability to work with outside agencies or resources as needed while determining resource structure; P&L ownership to manage sales, margin & expense levers to maximize bottom line profit; plus the ability to work with forecasting to move the necessary levers on top line & expenses to get the biggest return.
UPDATE: It’s worth noting that in the last 6 months, Christopher & Banks’ stock has risen by nearly 4 times — from $1.61 to $6.40! What would you do if the equity in your business increased by 297% in just 6 months? Invest in ecommerce? Possibly …
- Works closely with the executives and other cross functional teams to drive the future growth of the eCommerce business and integrate it with the base business.
- Develops the business plans including the annual budget for eCommerce which will outline objectives, strategy, tactics and milestones to achieve overall financial goals for product sales, margin & operating income.
- Oversees the day-to-day planning, QA and execution of content across the websites including product & promotional merchandising, online marketing campaigns, website design, customer service, web analytics, and web technologies.
- Analyzes and assesses the effectiveness of all eCommerce operations and makes recommendations for improvements.
- Analyzes web usage trends to improve and/or add functionality to web store platform.
- Identifies and manages all contractor and vendor relationships (outside business partners) and acts as a liaison between the IT department and outside vendors for development and maintenance of the web site.
- Leads development of direct-to-consumer customer acquisition plans that are relevant for the company’s brand positioning which drive incremental traffic and revenue for the organization resulting in improved multi-channel efforts
- Bachelor’s degree in Business or related field.
- Minimum of 7-10 years experience in driving business strategy and execution with proven financial results.
- Experience in retail industry preferred.
- Proven experience building and directing a cohesive team of internal and external personnel to effectively develop eCommerce solutions.
- Understanding of eCommerce business models including trends, competitors, distribution channels, customer base, promotion, and products.
- Demonstrated strong business judgment and decision-making skills.
- Expertise on current eCommerce industry best practices; ability to consult on cross-functional projects to ensure eCommerce principles are incorporated.
- Outstanding analytical skills.
- Ability to identify, prioritize, and articulate highest impact initiatives.
- High level of creativity and innovation.
UPDATE: THIS SEARCH HAS BEEN CLOSED.
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