Jennifer Myers left her role as group GM of merchandise planning at Accent Group last month. In this Q&A, she recalls her time at the footwear conglomerate, from the highlights to the challenges, and reveals what's next.
How long were you at Accent Group and why have you decided to leave?
I have been at Accent Group for just shy of seven years and it's been an amazing and rewarding time.
I am sad to leave such an exciting business, however, I came to Accent Group to establish a merchandise planning function and I have delivered what I came to do; the governance, framework and control are in place with inventory profitability a priority. The Divisional CEOs with their teams are well placed to continue the inventory productivity journey and deliver more profitable outcomes.
What was your greatest achievement in your tenure?
My greatest achievement has to be the KPIs that we delivered. The Accent Group has continued its phenomenal growth; store growth, margin growth, EBIT and earnings growth as well as inventory profitability gains as measured through GMROI ( (gross margin return on investment) improvement.
Delivering these inventory productivity outcomes was a multi-faceted approach: As much as it was about establishing functional capability, it was a change journey. It meant effective communication of the planning roadmap; putting robust processes and framework in place; managing the purchase process (OTB control) and ensuring the right governance around this.
A consistent approach to the fundamentals (forecast reviews, budget process, markdown management, aged inventory management) was imperative to ensure group visibility and provide confidence in the outcomes. Building reporting capability and providing analytics to support decision making. We had to build the team and their capability as well as ongoing education with the broader group on how to drive productivity and profitability through inventory management. It has been a monumental team effort.
Seeing our senior leaders driving the right messages to deliver more profitable outcomes with their inventory decision making is very satisfying.
What was your greatest challenge during your career at Accent Group?
Change is hard. I have been persistent and resolute in what we needed to do whilst learning how to drive success in a business that charges at a pace I have never experienced before.
It’s all about people. What motivates each key stakeholder are they ready for change and are we aligned on the strategy. Building momentum and leveraging the supporters on the change journey is crucial. Delivering consistency in process and expectations was important in navigating the challenge. I remained focused on the goal and resilience was paramount.
When reflecting on my greatest challenges, I also have to mention COVID times. This was unprecedented for most of us. Standing down our entire team, both our store and support teams was one of the toughest times in my, and probably most of our careers. They were very dark days, however, they also turned into some of my most rewarding times as we pivoted and drove our trade online.
The capability our organisation had already built enabled us to trade all of our stores as “dark stores” dispatching online orders to the customer. The way we pulled together as a team and what we were able to achieve was remarkable. In no small way attributed to Daniel Agostinelli, our CEO’s sheer grit and innovative leadership and no question testament to the tenacity and “special sauce” of the Accent Group team.
What was it like to work for a company that manages multiple brands with multiple personalities?
Accent Group has more than doubled in size since I started back in 2017. With more than 800 stores and 35 online sites that brings complexity. Clearly, it's a fast paced, growth organisation and moving with pace means delivering the best outcome you can with the data and resource you have available to you. Time is crucial and decisions have to be made confidently and quickly. We had businesses with different operating platforms which is a challenge in itself and can also challenge your ability to deliver consistency which is important in establishing framework and providing governance.
I had to adopt a broader mindset to deliver outcomes at a group level. Supporting the group goals and strategies whilst meeting the needs of the individual businesses isn't easy. One size does not fit all. A multi branded business requires you to collaborate and build relationships with a much broader range of leaders who all have their own unique skills and experiences as well as different working styles and business specific strategies. We needed structure and consistency where it mattered but needed to be flexible and nimble. Implementing planning and process could not slow the business down.
Do you have predictions in the supply and demand space ahead?
Good planning fundamentals become increasingly important when we are facing tougher conditions either trading conditions as a result of cost-of-living impacts or supply chain challenges as a result of the geopolitical tensions.
We are seeing the planning cycle moving further out from the market as a result of uncertainty around supply timelines. The further out from market, the margin for error increases. Merchandise and demand planning is about getting things "less wrong" and we have to find ways to make decisions closer to market as well as have more confidence in the decisions we make.
Utilizing data, analytics and insights is crucial. Not only in understanding customer demand to deliver the right product proposition, but in finding supply chain efficiencies and improving allocation effectiveness to get the right product to the customer at the right time. Finding ways to be flexibile in the face of these challenges will become imperative to driving growth.
In the footwear sector, what trends do you predict to gain traction in 2024 and beyond?
I wonder if I will stop looking at people’s feet everywhere I go and if I do, how long will it take. I was at a concert with my daughter and her friend last night and I saw a reflection of the Accent Group everywhere I looked; Doc Martens and Vans, Veja, New Balance, lots of the sought after Adidas samba. It’s safe to say the sneaker trend is here to stay. With the growth in outdoors and hiking inspired footwear I expect to see this trend continue with brands like Hoka going from strength to strength not just for its technical build but they are trendy too. The success of the retro and classic styles no doubt will continue.
Women will continue to favour flats with the mesh ballet flat styles sold in the likes of Stylerunner continuing to involve. Sustainable footwear will continue to play an important role. We might see more embellishment this year as trends cycle. I hear and read lots about personalisation, that might be as simple as laces but we will likely see this.
What's the next step for you in your career?
I see my skills taking me to a role with broader functional responsibilities. I love leading people and leading change. I plan to continue my personal growth and support the growth of others. I need to be challenged and thrive on solving problems. I’m excited for the future and I’m ready to jump into it.