Claire Harper

My Speaking Journey

27th Jul 2016 • CLAIRE HARPER

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The summer holidays have arrived and I have reflected on the first part of this year. I am delighted to be working with Speaking Office, a bespoke management company representing a number of talented individuals with powerful and interesting ideas worth sharing.

My inspirational journey from corporate marketer (Argos, Ocado, Sainsbury's and Mamas & Papas) to fledging entrepreneur (IndiaCoco) is full of valuable learnings gleaned from implementing innovation and cultural change in influential and progressive brands.

This year, I have delivered keynote speeches to a number of strong businesses and organisations including On The Dot, Blackstone, Burberry, British Independent Retail Association, The British Retail Consortium and The Better Wholesaling Summit to name just a few. My keynote speeches are all tailored to the client's brief. Key themes this year have been focused around understanding the customer, effective leadership, digital, delivery and brand innovation and change management.

I joined Argos at the time of a hostile takeover, at a time when the brand was struggling to change and innovate. The learning curve in people management, customer insight and technological change was steep, but it formed the foundations of my passion for taking brands to the next level of success. I thrived under the tutelage of influential mentors and in time used my experience to move on to the next challenge.

At the age of 26 I joined the newly-launched Ocado as Head of Customer Acquisition and was soon promoted to Head of Marketing. At the time online grocery shopping was clunky and ineffective but the potential was enormous and I was delighted to be part of the visionary team that helped build the Ocado brand into the customer-focussed, insightful brand it has become.

As well as helping to create the business and watching it grow, my time at Ocado gave me the knowledge and experience required to truly influence the direction of the business, enabling us to fight off competition, turn an entire concept on its head and create a whole new customer-centric space in the market.

Four years later I was headhunted to join Sainsbury’s CEO Justin King’s new leadership team, with the aim of reinvigorating this flagging brand and make Sainsbury’s great again. By now I had the skills Sainsbury’s needed to adapt their business plans to reflect the ever-changing retail landscape. During my time at Sainsbury’s I successfully launched their multi-channel experience, and consolidated the brand with its customer communications.

With a hunger for a new challenge, I upped sticks and moved to Yorkshire to be the first ever female board director at nursery retailer Mamas & Papas, a strong family business which had moved from wholesale to retail. Tasked with growing the brand in the UK and abroad, I had to build and strengthen a positive culture, and ensure that the business prioritised understanding the customer at the deepest level.

During my time at Mamas & Papas my husband and I welcomed our first daughter Coco into the family, and I faced the familiar challenge of balancing a successful and demanding career with taking care of a newborn. One of the many subjects I give talks about is familiar to many working women - the challenges of “having it all”, and some of the things I learned (and mistakes I made) during my quest for work/life balance.

Our second child India was born in 2011 and this proved to be the catalyst for change that unleashed my inner entrepreneur. In the face of some very appealing job offers from major retailers, I made the determined decision to fulfil a long-held ambition to launch a retail business of my own and took the plunge with both feet.

I launched IndiaCoco in June 2012 from my dining room at home, after spotting a gap in the market for a destination shop which sold original, well-designed and innovative childrenswear, the vast majority of which are designed in the UK.

From running my own successful business and now with a family relocation from Yorkshire to Hertfordshire, I am now doing more corporate speaking events and I am also a senior retail interim and brand consultant.

So, this is the inspiration for the expertise I now share with others - my understanding of online retail as well as ‘bricks and mortar’ shopping. The feedback from events and key clients this year has been very positive so if you’re looking for an inspiring and entrepreneurial speaker, marketing consultant or business mentor, I'd love to hear from you.


Connecting Customers - Better Wholesaling Summit

16th Jul 2016 • CLAIRE HARPER

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Evolving technology. Smarter processes. New profits.

The first ever Better Wholesaling Summit took place on July 13 at The Bond Company in Birmingham.

I was delighted to be a keynote speaker and a member of the panel discussion alongside industry experts from Social Retail Group, Blakemore, Better Wholesaling and Celtech. I was asked to talk about my experience connecting customers and to know your customers better than they know themselves. I have worked with companies such as Argos, Ocado, Sainsburys and Mamas & Papas launching multi channel customer propositions and improving levels of change management, cultural evolution and customer service and communication over the past few years. I have also run my own successful business so I understand the challenges that small businesses face in order to grow their brand and become profitable.

My key messages for understanding customers and embracing change is to 'keep it simple' as brands and people can easily overcomplicate things. Really understand and focus on your customer at all times. They are the DNA and heartbeat of your business and stick to your brand vision and customer values and keep customers on your side. Embrace digital and social landscapes. Don't be afraid to make a mistake and try new things - have fun and create a positive and entrepreneurial place to work.

In summary, a great line up of passionate and experienced speakers and a very informative and inspirational event.

Many thanks again to Better Wholesaling for providing great insight and actionable advice to grocery and foodservice wholesalers. They aim to help the industry improve sell-through and support its customers better by promoting best practice examples from leader wholesalers and suppliers across the foodservice, cash & carry and delivered sectors.


© 2022 Claire Harper