Powerful People: Jamie Whiting
The managing director of Barkers knows how to appeal to the masses
As the managing director of Barkers and a key investor who helped to bring Topshop and Topman to New Zealand, Jamie Whiting knows a thing or two about appealing to the masses. The fashion retail maestro has direct responsibility for the strategic development, performance and roll-out of the Topshop brand in the New Zealand market; plans are under way for Wellington, Christchurch and possibly more Auckland stores. Whiting’s background includes years at Hallensteins where he started, aged 17, and worked his way up from the shop floor to general manager.
Later he progressed to running sister company Glassons, after which he became managing director at Max before taking the Barkers’ position in 2010. At the time he wasn’t shy about identifying the brand as “generic” and in need of fresh ideas. With the simultaneous appointment of Paul Biddle as director of design and merchandising, Barkers has since had a complete makeover, from product design to slick new shop fit-outs.
What is your involvement in terms of developing the Topshop brand in NZ?
My role is group managing director for Barkers and Top Retail (franchise owner for Topshop Topman). As part of this role I have direct responsibility for the strategic development and roll out of the brand in the NZ market, as well as the overall responsibility for the operations and performance of the Topshop Topman stores.
Now that the Queen St Topshop store is open, what’s next and when?
Continuing the brand roll-out throughout NZ is a key focus at the moment. We are working on future sites as we speak, but getting the right site in the right location, and the size we require, are the critical ingredients — and we need to get these right like we did in Queen St. We have plans for a Wellington, Christchurch and perhaps future Auckland stores, and with the success of Topshop Topman Queen St we know there are plenty of fans around the country who are excited for what we do next.
What effect do you think Topshop will have on NZ fashion — in particular local designers?
New Zealand designers have already been competing on a global stage for a while now, and their competition is not just the store across the road anymore. Local fashion fans have embraced Topshop and Topman since 2009 when they started shipping to New Zealand from tosphop.com, and since the brands opened at The Department Store in 2010.
When you came on board as managing director at Barkers you said you felt the brand had become ‘generic’ ... what improvements/achievements have you made since then?
What hasn’t changed! Literally everything — starting with product design, with a complete overhaul of our design philosophy and product positioning, repositioning of brand and marketing, new retail store concepts and larger stores, relocated head office and distribution, new IT systems, development of our people — there isn’t a part of the business that hasn’t had some change. We are constantly on the lookout for ways to improve the brand experience for our customers, and have a philosophy of challenging the status quo and not being complacent. One of the biggest achievements I am most proud of is how a small team of incredibly dedicated and talented people have delivered our strategic plans and vision, and seeing the great results that have come from that.
What drives you? What do you love about retail?
I love the challenge of setting big goals and dreams, then setting about putting strategies in place to execute and achieve these goals. I don’t like sitting still waiting for things to happen, you have to get out there and make it happen yourself. Retail is such a dynamic and exciting industry — it never stops, and there is always a new challenge, new opportunity or something that needs sorting out. It can also be an exceptionally rewarding industry from a career point of view, there are so many opportunities in amazing roles that can take you all around the world, or take you on incredible career paths.
Is it accurate to say you worked your way from the shop floor at Hallensteins?
Absolutely — I started on the shop floor at Hallensteins in Christchurch straight out of school at age 17 and didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life at that time. But once I got into retail I went from store roles, then into developing and buying product, which I absolutely loved and from there never looked back. I progressed on to general management roles in both Hallensteins and Glassons, before leaving to take on the managing director role at Max and from there the opportunity arose for me to move to Barkers and take an equity stake in the business, which I jumped at. Moving to Barkers has been not only the best move, but the absolute highlight of my career — having the opportunity to work alongside such great, like-minded people and achieve what we have so far has been a dream.