CPP-LUXURY.COM has recently interviewed Ms Helen Brocklebank, Chief Executive of Walpole, the alliance of British luxury brands.
Which are the most important ongoing initiatives Walpole is regularly conducting on behalf of its members? (Regardless of crisis situations / times)
Walpole is the trade body for the British luxury sector and counts 270 of the UK finest luxury brands amongst its membership across all sectors of luxury from long-established names to new and niche players. Walpole’s purpose is to promote, protect and develop a sector worth £48 billion to the UK economy and the jewel in the crown of UK business.
Walpole also seeks out UK and international business opportunities, promoting growth in the industry through a programme of initiatives and as founders of the UK China Visa Alliance – working group to promote the UK to Chinese visitors and simplify the process for Chinese visitors to visit the UK – and the European Cultural and Creative Industries Alliance: an organisation that champions relationships with Europe’s luxury and creative sectors post-Brexit and which has undertaken UK and EU lobbying work on topics such as sector recognition and key policy areas such as IP and Selective Distribution. Additionally, Walpole nurtures the next generation of Britain’s luxury brands and Walpole runs the mentoring programmes Brands of Tomorrow, the Programme in Luxury Management at London Business School, and Women in Luxury.
During the current pandemic, some of your members are running a coherent strategy which also includes an elevated crisis communications both internally and to consumers – while other members are supporting a certain hospital or a particular cause. What additional support does Walpole offer at this time?
The response of British luxury businesses to the Covid-19 crisis has been absolutely phenomenal, our members have demonstrated their compassion and ingenuity to help the fight against the pandemic. [see press release for examples]
While the ways in which we work have changed drastically, Walpole’s role has reminded constant. Our focus has been on providing our members with the guidance and support they need to weather what is unquestionably incredibly challenging circumstances from the financial support available to action plans around the restart and keeping employees and customer safe.
We have had an open line of communication with the government and fellow sector bodies to ensure that the needs of the British luxury sector are heard and being reflected in policy. And now, more than ever, we have been creating spaces that bring the sector together as a community, whether that’s for learning through webinars, knowledge sharing and leadership challenges via executive digital roundtables or spreading positive news via Walpole’s own content channels.
Which do you think are the key messages that wealthy luxury consumers expect to learn from luxury brands? What do you think luxury consumers are most concerned about the effects of the pandemic? (ex. compromise on quality – sourcing cheaper raw materials; the investment factor will be diminished or may even disappear (certain luxury products increase in value over time)
Like everyone in the pandemic, the wealthy customer is predominantly concerned with their health and wellbeing and that of their family and friends. While the appetite to buy still exists – as demonstrated by some luxury brands seeing uplift in their e-commence revenues – customer confidence to shop in person will likely be slow to return when boutiques are eventually allowed to reopen. British luxury brands are planning extensively for the ‘new normal’ and what socially distanced retail will entail. Supply chain challenges are part of those plans, however, any lowering of standards around product quality is out of the question, our brands are more likely to innovate and adapt their offering with new product lines.
With staff being laid off in various ways, what should companies communicate to ensure they will be able to re-hire staff to ensure the same high standards of customers service which they used to provide before the pandemic?
In the UK, the package of financial support offered by the government in response to the crisis has meant that British luxury businesses have been able to furlough all or some of their employees while manufacturing and retail has slowed or stopped. The priority now is asking the government for an evolution of the Job Retention Scheme to allow the part time or flexible furloughing of employees to enable businesses to get the economy restarted whilst preserving as many jobs in British luxury as possible.
Do you think the profile of the luxury consumer will change after the pandemic or once the pandemic reaches lowest levels?
Pre-pandemic the customer for UK luxury was predominantly international with purchases being made by consumers travelling on holiday or for business to the UK to buy British. Now, with the disruption to international travel we are likely to see brands focussing more on the domestic customer in the short term, whilst planning for the return of international visitors in the medium term.
What is your view on ‘guilt’ versus ‘revenge’ behaviour when it comes to luxury shopping?
There is a degree of pent up demand for luxury goods, particularly from those fortunate enough not to feel impacted economically by the crisis. But the idea that customers will feel guilty about luxury is a myth: the purchase sentiment from classic luxury shoppers is Likely to be one of reward for being in confinement. But for luxury retail in Europe and the U.K., reward shopping and pent-up domestic demand won’t compensate for the absence of international travellers who play such an important role in luxury shopping. Full recovery will come to the luxury sector once people are able to move freely between countries
Tell us more about the initiatives you are planning for the short / mid term?
Walpole’s main concern is to continue supporting its members practically through the challenges that lay ahead as British luxury businesses begin the restart. Beyond that, there is a real opportunity to rebuild in a way that puts an even greater focus on sustainability, and having launched its own sustainability manifesto at the beginning of the year, Walpole will be working with members to make British luxury the world leader in sustainability as the sector returns full capacity.
Whilst Brexit is still an issue that is very much present in the background, all the luxury trade associations across Europe are working closely on joint initiatives for the post-virus recovery – for example, promoting the cultural and creative riches of Europe and U.K. to affluent international travellers, and ways in which they can feel safe to visit once more
Walpole is a unique membership organisation which advances the British luxury industry through networking, developing business collaborations, shared knowledge and insights while amplifying the voice of British luxury in the media, on the political stage, and by cultivating international growth opportunities. Please click here to read the Walpole Members Guide.
There are several membership tiers designed to welcome luxury brands at all stages of their business’ development. Strict membership criteria applies, including minimum turnover requirements and demonstrable qualities as a British luxury brand or cultural institution.
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