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Raw Talent Podcast S4 Episode 1 with Coes Retail Director Matthew Rawlings

Matt shares some great insights in today's episode of Raw Talent. After studying Retail Management at the University of Surrey, he initially wanted to head down the hotel route, however, during his part-time Saturday job his boss spotted his potential for retail and talked Matt into considering retail instead, which after a little soul searching, led him to accept a role at Coes in 2000. An opportunity he embraced with open arms working in every department in the business.

As an independent retailer responding to the changing landscape of the last 20 years, Matt explains Coes has reacted in a variety of different ways by changing the product, hiring new personnel, diversifying into womenswear and refurbishing, moving and closing stores in response to the market. Eager to be pushing forward they spent £5,000 back in 2000 launching a non-transactional website, much to his amusement looking back.

Fast-forward 20 years into today's omnichannel world, Coes' goal is to offer great choice, good value and open and honest service, highly valued by their customers. They have evolved from a classic men's drapery store stocking Barbour, Ben Sherman and Fred Perry classics alongside sportswear to exciting a whole new generation back in the early 2000s, after taking a punt and spending £12k onboarding Gant. Matt spent a week not sleeping thinking he'd bankrupted the company. In the last few years, he has seen the business shift from tailoring towards casualwear and sportswear with a niche in running.

As an omnichannel business, their customers lead the channels of communication from social media to WhatsApp. Harnessing a resource from the world of print, Coes send out a well-curated, well thought through mailout 3-4 times a year, which generates plenty of interest and activity.

Personalisation is very much the name of the game with pop-ups showcasing new brands and independent businesses, a local gym, local vodka producer, artists, jewellery and fashion accessories. The Ipswich flagship also plays host to a resident coffee selling tuk-tuk.

When the business turned eighty-five years old a couple of years ago, Coes marked the occasion with a menswear collaboration with their favourite makers to create a personalised tweed jacket with a Liberty print hankie, an exclusive shirt, brown Barker brogues with tweed insert and chinos with Liberty flashing. Every part of the outfit told a story and completely sold out!

As we emerge from lockdown, Matt is considering resurrecting one of their most successful social media initiatives which saw them support local trade with 150 businesses taking part it created quite the buzz in East Anglia.

Talking of lockdown, Matt tells us that running shoes, yoga mats, dumbells, wellies, loungewear, fragrancies and re-usable straws have topped their bestseller list! with trust and reliability being a core pillar of Coes' ethos, one of their longstanding customers who has just retired emailed Matt to offer his services as a consultant having just saved Primark £5m in energy costs. With personalisation at the forefront of retail, Matt has also had the idea of investing in a press for the personalisation of socks, which may well solve the annual dilemma of father's day gifts.

During the ride at Coes, he has also had the pleasure of meeting some incredible people from numerous sports stars to Stephen Hawking and Claudia Schiffer. Seeing the development of colleagues as their individual careers have unfolded is also a real pride and pleasure.

The challenges of the last year are unprecedented and new skills and resilience are the main takeaways from our conversation. Looking forward, it is also about diversity and newness. Coes are about to be the first in the UK to rollout Shopify's new POS system seamlessly unifying in-store and online sales.

For my closing question, if Matt could hire any three people in the world, who would they be and why? He wanted to bring some new names to the party with Holly Tucker MBE and Co-Founder of Not On The High Street, nominated for her incredible work in helping over 5,000 small businesses providing a platform on which they can sell. Ben Francis founder of Gymshark a business worth £1b is his second choice as someone who is not afraid to admit his weaknesses and is an inspiration to anyone who dares to dream. Having set up Gymshark in his mum and dad's garage he has successfully taken on the already crazy competitive sportswear market. Walt Disney is his final choice, as someone who managed to reinvent himself many times starting out as an illustrator, becoming a cartoonist, going into films, building theme parks, creating the Epcot Centre, and planning the 1960 winter Olympics, he did a huge amount of great work for his country and yet behind the scenes, he was a shy slightly insecure man who was nevertheless compelled to take action when he saw an opportunity.

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