Graham Harris has been promoted to become Carpetright chief operating officer today as chief executive Darren Shapland stood down following a profit warning. Harris will support founder Lord Harris, who has stepped back into the day-to-day running of the business as executive chairman.
Former Tesco executive Graham Harris was brought in to the retailer in May to take over some of the functions that revered Carpetright founder and chairman Lord Harris had traditionally led, including buying and product. He is now expected to take on some of Shapland’s responsibilities.
He has almost 30 years retail experience across store management, finance, commercial and general management roles. Harris spent 12 years at Tesco after joining in 2000 under Richard Brasher, and moving from finance into more commercial roles in 2004. As commercial director he built up businesses across entertainment, stationery, toys, hardware and sport, and also headed up its mobile arm.
In fact, he jokes the only non-food category he has never really traded is flooring.
However, the thought of learning a new product category is exactly what attracted Harris to the role.
“The experience that Tesco gives you is the challenge of having to learn a new category quickly,” he tells Retail Week. “We built businesses from scratch and had to be as good as the specialists in those categories. We were doing £3.5bn in sales when I left.”
Carpetright chief executive Darren Shapland agrees. “Graham was doing a very big job at Tesco,” he said in May. “He’s got strong experience in non-food areas across a range of categories. We wanted a seasoned trading person to take over from Phil [Lord Harris].”
Shapland described Harris as a “thoughtful and strategic individual”.
“He’s got good skills with suppliers which is critical,” added Shapland. “He’s got a very good retail eye and will add a lot to us as a team.”
Shapland and Harris had actually worked in the same business before, at Burton Group – where many up and coming retail leaders earned their stripes – although their paths did not cross.
It is no surprise that Harris came into the sector. After growing up with a mother who ran two fashion shops and a father who was a Radio Rentals store manager, he says it was “inevitable” he would follow that path. He started out at Woolworths aged 18 and never looked back.
Harris says he considered going down the finance and accountancy route at Burton but he decided to stick with his heart in retail. “It’s a very tangible business, you can see the products you bought being sold in stores using the trading plan you created,” he says.
Harris is used to growing businesses in a buoyant market, so taking on the Carpetright role amid a tough big ticket market is an altogether new challenge. His first priority is to “understand the business as Phil understands it”, he says, and to get to grips with the new category speedily. “I’ve never done flooring before so I’ll have to listen and learn a lot,” he says. “I want to spend time in stores, understand suppliers, listen to customers.”
“Carpetright is a market leading business in a depressed sector. It’s a challenging time for big ticket but this is a solid business with a great brand. It doesn’t need a change of direction.”
In his spare time family man Harris jokes his main job is as a “taxi” for his two daughters. “There’s lots of talking about exams and ponies,” he laughs.
While he has the unenviable task of treading the same floors of his highly regarded predecessor, Harris’ magic carpet ride is only just beginning.