Wednesday 21st September saw the latest Whitecap Consulting event take place at First Direct Arena in Leeds. Game Changers in Consumer & Retail brought together an audience of brand owners, product and service providers, and various advisers from the northern business community. With a speaker line up of recognised industry experts, there was a wealth of insight for attendees to take away from the event.

Digital transformation – from catalogues to online retailing

shop-directShop Direct’s strategy and communications director Dan Rubel opened proceedings with a fascinating overview of how the business has transformed itself over recent years. Shop Direct has its roots in mail order, and previously printed in excess of 20 million catalogues per year. Today it is into a 100% digital operation that takes a mobile-first approach. Dan explained how the business has used research, data, insight and technology to develop a consumer proposition that generates nearly £1.9bn of sales per year – over £1bn of which come via its digital department store brand.

Funding – what investors look for

Richard Taylor of Business Growth Fund (BGF) talked through the fundamental requirements that investors look for in a business. His message to delegates was that the most important thing to put in place is a clear plan for growth, and that this should be underpinned by key foundations including: strong and experienced management, a clear proposition/USP, robust financials, a strong market position, systems and processes, and an exit strategy.

Converting mobile traffic into sales

Visualsoft is a fast growing digital marketing agency and e-commerce platform provider to over 1500 websites. Their enterprise marketing director Ed Harries explained that online and offline shopping are more inter-related than people think, with mobile searches in-store recently up by over 30%. He went on to highlight that although 3.4m people per day acquire a new smartphone, the mobile experience offered by many retailers still leaves much to be desired. 35% of people won’t buy on their phone due to difficulties with check out / payment, and on average there are 24 steps required to complete checkout via a mobile device.


Robin Hilton, co-founder and director of Leeds-based Researchbods and Whitecap’s digital expert David Crawford joined the speakers for a panel session which drew lively debate from attendees with questions ranging from strategy and research, through to digital marketing and exit timeframes.

After a networking break, which included tasting sessions hosted by Slingsby Gin and Yushoi, three more speakers took to the stage.

Aligning a new product with consumer needs

calbeeHugh Taylor of Calbee UK talked through how they had planned and executed the UK brand launch of Yushoi, a highly successful range of Japanese savoury snack food. With 52% market share in Japan, the brand arrived in the UK with a strong pedigree, but Hugh outlined how careful Calbee had been to fully understand the market and consumers, including taking account of changes in demographics, health and wellness, eating habits and connectivity amongst consumers. Yushoi’s ‘healthy snacking’ proposition has been well received and is already stocked in many leading retailers including Coop, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Aldi, and Whole Foods.


Launching a new brand in a growing market

Harrogate-based Slingsby Gin is a high-end product in screen-shot-2016-09-21-at-17-13-43one of only three growing categories in the alcoholic drinks industry (the other two being real ale and sparkling wine – mainly Prosecco). Joint Managing Director Marcus Black explained how he and the team had gone about the challenging task of creating a unique brand strategy in such a competitive sector. Marcus spoke about the importance of understanding consumer trends, planning, precision (particularly of outputs such as story, design, product and distribution), driving awareness.

The rhubarb gin was a particular favourite of delegates at Game Changers!

Using social engagement for targeted marketing

The final speaker was long-time Whitecap supporter Tony Watson, the sales marketing and PR director of First Direct Arena. Tony took delegates on a whistle stop tour of some of the events and artists that the arena has hosted, ranging from Elton John to Disney on Ice and McBusted. The arena has an impressive track record of selling out events faster than its rivals, and Tony explained how he and his team tackle the challenge of engaging multiple audience profiles via digital marketing and social media in order to drive ticket sales for each event. Not only was it a highly impressive case study, but Tony also kindly gave away a dozen pairs of tickets for events at the arena, via an entertaining quiz.

screen-shot-2016-09-22-at-09-59-45Prior to a networking lunch, there was a final panel session with the three speakers being joined by Paul Stephen, chief executive of digital marketing agency Sagittarius, and Whitecap’s brand strategy expert Tessa Birch. The panel engaged in a debate that focused on the importance of brand and in particular, the role of subscription-based models and the challenge of keeping consumer interest / engagement via this model.

Whitecap’s Julian Wells, who chaired the day, closed the event by thanking all the speakers and attendees for their time, and recapping on some of the key themes from the day. Delegates had an insightful and thought-provoking journey through key aspects of the consumer and retail industry including strategy, funding, e-commerce, brand strategy, research and digital marketing.


The regional business news agency the business desk also wrote about our event, focusing on the digital innovation in the spotlight for ‘game changing’ retail brands