Incoming Foyles boss Paul Currie has ambitious plans for the bookseller and believes its ecommerce offer could eclipse its bricks-and-mortar business.
Currie sits in the John Lewis store in Cambridge and lays out his vision for Foyles as incumbent chief executive Sam Husain hands on the baton in order to retire.
John Lewis is often held up as the poster-boy for omnichannel retailing and Currie hopes to emulate its success at Foyles.
Currie believes his experience at Hamleys, which he took from “a single-site operation to a multi-site business with a very strong online presence”, will help him grow Foyles’ digital business to two or three times the size of the bricks-and-mortar business.
“The infrastructure is there,” he says. “Instinct tells me the business should be bigger than its current bricks-and-mortar size.”
Currie argues Foyles is no longer a turnaround business thanks to the work carried out by predecessor Husain.
“Sam has created the canvas and started the painting and I would like to fill in the landscape and the rest of the picture,” says Currie.
Foyles only has a small presence outside London, having just opened its second branch beyond the capital in Birmingham. As a result Currie will focus on improving the digital proposition in order to give the business the “ultimate geographical reach”.
Although this is the first formal chief executive position of his career, Currie says he is not intimidated because he has held de facto chief exec roles in the past at Hamleys and Molton Brown.
“For me it is about using those skills that I have been already exercising,” says Currie. “What I love about Foyles is it has so much potential.”
Despite having lofty ambitions for the retailer, he insists he will not rush into any rash decisions when he takes the reins on February 16.
“I’ve seen too many chief execs come in and say ‘I know everything’ - and it is like a deck of cards and it all falls down,” explains Currie.
He is keen to keep his cards close to his chest before he officially joins the retailer, but Currie reveals he has identified pricing and developing the small store format as other key priorities.
Currie says he will be careful not to be sucked into discounting to compete with Amazon’s cutthroat pricing and he aims to replicate Hamley’s strategy at Foyles.
“If you want price, you go to Argos, Toys R Us or Amazon, but if you want expertise and personalised service then you go to Hamleys,” says Currie.
Another point of differentiation Currie has identified within Foyles’ weaponry is its “enormous richness of authority”.
“There are significant opportunities with non-books-related matter. Foyles has a lot of history and archive material that could be developed into all sorts of things,” says Currie. “At Hamleys we created a whole heritage range of products.”
Currie is excited about the potential of archive material because he is, by his admission, an anorak. At present he is chomping at the bit to read a book about forgotten railway lines that were closed during the 1960s.
Despite studying English Literature at A-Level, when he read everything from Chaucer to Evelyn Waugh, Currie’s true passion is for non-fiction books.
As Foyles prepares for another chapter, Currie will be hoping the digital transformation of the business will help Foyles avoid becoming just another footnote in the annals of retail history.
Paul Currie’s CV
2011 to 2014 Global vice-president of retail sales and operations at Molton Brown
2009 to 2011 Managing director at Gables Retail Solutions
2008 to 2009 Chief operating officer at Hamleys
2004 to 2008 Trading director at Hamleys
2000 to 2004 Operations director at easyInternetcafe
1996 to 2000 Head of franchise division and direct selling at River Island
1985 to 1996 Various roles, rising to European project manager at Marks & Spencer
1982 to 1985 Department merchandiser at Marks & Spencer