From Manchester, to Liverpool, Birmingham and Leeds – Store Director Iain Mackenzie has headed up all of these Harvey Nichols stores and he certainly isn’t done with us yet. In Manchester, we sat down with Iain to discuss what it’s like to head up a store (“I try to walk my stores as a customer”), whilst hearing his secrets (“We don’t have a one-size-fits-all approach.”)
Tell us about your background and how you ended up at Harvey Nichols?
I actually studied sociology with town planning in Bristol. Afterwards I joined Selfridges’ training scheme in London, where I worked my way up from temp to eventually becoming promoted to General Manager of Selfridges at the Trafford Centre. At the time I was the youngest General Manager ever promoted in the company. Following that I moved to Harvey Nichols to become a General Manager of the Manchester store. Whilst being the GM for Manchester, I also got to open Beauty Bazaar in Liverpool and I ran the Birmingham store for a while. Currently I am still heading up the Manchester store and have taken on Leeds as well. I have been with Harvey Nichols for 13 years now and still going strong!
What is your role all about?
My role is about looking for opportunities and winning business from the local region that I’m working in. Managing a store is not just about opening doors, letting people in and hoping for the best; it’s also about developing a great experience in the stores and making sure they are maintained to the highest standards. What’s more, it’s about employing the best people we can in all disciplines, keeping us operationally efficient and ensuring profitability.
I really enjoy working in this retail role because it allows me to use many different disciplines: e.g. business, the human side of things, events and marketing. Retail is a great industry to work in, where you can not only use but develop a very wide level of skills. It always keeps you interested.
What does a regular day look like for you?
I travel between both Manchester and Leeds and divide my days accordingly, which keeps things nice and varied! My day involves anything from meetings with brands and suppliers, one-to-ones with the team and group project calls to the necessary amount of office. I also like to spend a lot of time on the shop floor because that’s where I get to see the operation, the quality of staff, the presentation and the customer – it’s the full appreciation of the front-end of the business. I am always looking to enhance this experience.
I try to walk my stores as a customer to and observe the environment whilst taking into account feedback from my whole team. The great thing about Harvey Nichols is that it’s a very inclusive environment to work in. All ideas aren’t bad ideas – I’ll take suggestions from everyone.
Why do you enjoy heading up a store for Harvey Nichols in particular?
I think our offer is quite defined and we’ve got great coverage across the country, which means there’s the opportunity to visit other market places and learn from other sites in developing your own business. That adds that little bit of extra. I’ve visited all stores in Britain and Ireland and I meet regularly with the other GM’s. We have a widespread network in which we share ideas and update each other about developments in the marketplace. We even stay in touch outside of work.
It’s great that Harvey Nichols has that greater structure - having a wide network is exceptionally important! Furthermore, the structure is very flat. The Board is very accessible, which is quite unique. If you have an idea you can openly discuss it with them.
What kind of experience are you looking to offer in the stores?
All the stores have a different customer; so we don’t have a “one size fits all” approach. Manchester is quite forward-thinking and opening itself up to new market places such as the Chinese customer. We do a lot of dramatic events for Manchester, think about fashion shows in the Manchester cathedral. Manchester is a bit of a risk taker and the gangster in the Harvey Nichols family, as we’re always looking to push the boundaries. Leeds, on the other hand, is a very established market place with a more classic customer. It’s more respectful of the traditional client. We also look for new opportunities there but are not disregarding the old. It’s interesting how each store has its own personality!
What are you most proud of at Harvey Nichols?
I’m very proud of my role in opening the Beauty Bazaar; I think this beauty concept was unique and is still unique in the retail landscape – no one has copied it. I also have great memories working with Birmingham, when I got the chance to run that store for a year. What also continuously makes me really proud is getting a compliment, letter or email from a customer, which reassures you you’re doing the right thing. That’s always to be celebrated!
What advice do you have for people who want to grow their career the way you did?
Listen and observe, be energised and be a self-starter. You have got to take pride in what you do and enjoy what you do. Immerse yourself and understand the business. Don’t be introverted, but look at what’s outside. Constantly look for opportunities! You’ve got to build those contacts and you’ve got to come in with a fresh perspective every day. Also always make time for your people. I’m very proud of all the people we’ve developed in my stores and who have gone on to great things. Is that enough?
What’s next for you?
I’ve recently been given the great opportunity to take on the Leeds store as well, so the current and future short-term challenge is to run both Manchester and Leeds successfully. On the longer term, I would ideally like to become a Retail Director and sit at full Board level. There’s enough to learn.
Why should people pay the Manchester and Leeds stores a visit?
For a unique experience, enjoying a great environment within an authoritative luxury brand profile, which incorporates fashion, food and beauty, receiving the very best service from some of the best trained people in retail. Every Harvey Nichols store is the best place to shop, to eat or to work in the city!