When Giny Boer joined C&A Europe two years ago, after 23 years selling furniture and home goods for Ikea, she was in dire need of a refresher like her former employer in Sweden promised to her homebuilding clients. found a retailer.
C&A was founded in 1841 by young Dutch brothers Clemens and August Brenningmeyer and operated 1,400 stores in 18 European countries. Boer found 12 different versions of the company’s famous oval logo scattered throughout the group.
She arrived at the group’s Düsseldorf headquarters, which was in and out of the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown in what has been the most devastating time for European retailers since World War II. At first only management was in the office, most of them just there to meet their new bosses. Although she was able to visit some of the group’s shops in Germany, for weeks she was largely a virtual presence to her new colleagues.
In a lunchtime interview in Luxembourg where she will be speaking at an FT event, the 59-year-old Dutch woman repeatedly emphasizes her realism. For example, while she was studying developmental psychology in the 1980s, Bohr found that while psychologists were missing opportunities, economists were getting jobs right away. She started studying economics in the evenings while working as a sales assistant in a clothing store and soon started a business.
Faced with the constraints of the pandemic, Boer took a similarly pragmatic approach. Her online interview allowed her to talk to many people and absorb a lot of information about the challenges she faced. “I could talk to people and I knew the facts…without the noise,” she says. By the time she took over as CEO in December 2020, she had filled her four A4 notebooks with her own observations.
One fact is that online sales were lacking because C&A’s digital approach was not well developed and no single logistics hub could keep up with demand. Another was the lack of a unified concept. As CEO, Boer also sped up the opening of two fulfillment centers and implemented a “One C&A” program for streamlining and refurbishing stores. “We said, ‘We have to do something soon,'” he said. [they] Check with C&A that something is happening,” she says.
400 stores have already been renovated. For example, his three-story, nearly 5,000-square-meter store at C&A on Berlin’s Kurfürstendamm, the German capital’s historic shopping district, has been transformed into a more airy, trendy retail hub. . The remaining store portfolio will be “right-sized” into large, medium and small formats (some as small as store-within-a-store) by completing the first part of the transformation by 2024. Become.
As the company is owned by Brenninkmeijers’ privately held Cofra Holding, C&A does not disclose detailed sales figures, but when measured against 400 reference stores, sales from the updated format increased, Footfall increased by 8%. The employees are also happy because the outdated back rooms and rest areas have been renovated and refurbished.
These are easy wins. But even after the pandemic subsides, Bohr faces a combination of structural and cyclical pressures. A few kilometers from where the interview takes place, Bertrange has his C&A of 2,100 square meters. The shop on the ground floor is a typical ‘medium’ format but is still being renovated. Competing with the brighter and more modern H&M and Zara stores in the same shopping center, the prices of items match C&A’s budget and premium ranges respectively. All three face a cost-of-living crisis retailers have not seen in most countries since his 1970s. How will Boer differentiate C&A’s products in-store and online?
Interviews with colleagues who filled her notebooks put Boer under pressure to do more online, but few staff members singled out competitors by name. Instead, she was asked repeatedly. She seems to have satisfied her whimsical response — “we want to be us” — to the staff. Boer is tired of having to move from budget to premium strategy and back again under her successive CEOs, she said. Range and price are among the most important strategic decisions C&A has to take, she says, but “we can’t just shoot from the hip and do what I think is important. It doesn’t work, so everyone was very relieved that I wasn’t going left to right.”
“In many ways, C&A suffered from imposter syndrome,” adds veteran retailer Alan Layton, chair of C&A. “For the last 20 years, we’ve tried to be something else to establish our own identity, and it’s been very successful.”
A second common criticism Boer extracted from her memo was that senior management needs to communicate better. “When I started [C&A] was . . . very masculine, very bureaucratic, with many layers. So we wondered how would we do this. How can we make it more approachable? . . Isn’t that like a CEO sitting in an ivory tower?
Boer has introduced various initiatives to meet that need. This includes monthly ‘Let’s Connect’ sessions where people across the company sign up to ask questions of the CEO she hired from IKEA and her Chief Human Resources Officer, regular updates and a Town Hall , and twice monthly “Failure Sessions”. Friday”. At this final event, three staff members shared their experiences of failure online as part of an effort to encourage a culture where people dare to speak up.
By flattening the hierarchy and increasing transparency, Boer says it’s no exaggeration to say that it’s tapping into early knowledge of psychology. But she always said, “I care a lot about people. How can I get the most out of them? [them]How can everyone be their best self? So how does C&A create a culture where everyone feels and can be their best self?”
Given the competition, the low economic outlook, and the scale of the turnaround she’s trying to achieve, it’s easy to wonder if a change in company culture alone will be enough to revive C&A. Boer at least has the advantage of being able to perform changes behind the scenes of private ownership. She’s reluctant to compare working at IKEA, also a family business, to her experience working with the Brenningmeiers (“really supportive, but not interfering”), but says her family is a business. He says he likes “long-term thinking” as it applies to .
Boer says that’s one reason the Ikea and C&A family owners keep environmental goals high on their agendas. This is one of her new strategic pillars, the details of which she wishes to keep confidential.
3 Questions for Ginny Bohr
Who are your leadership heroes?
I have a lot of different things, but I don’t like to imitate someone. You learn different things from different leaders and people. My hero today is my boss, Alan Leighton.
What was your first leadership lesson?
Always reason and lead finished Man.
What would you be without running C&A?
I’m still Ginny—mother, partner, sister, friend, daughter.
Even as customers increasingly ask for better prices, C&A does not compromise on sustainability, she says. However, being a pragmatist, she may have to adapt. For example, this group moves some procurement closer to the customer. We own a highly automated denim factory in Mönchengladbach, Germany, where the machines work the fabric with lasers rather than stoning it with water.
“What we want to do now is democratize sustainable fashion,” says Bohr. “So it shouldn’t be a choice or a challenge for the customer.” Building on its tradition of affordability, C&A should be able to continue offering “low prices every day,” she said, referring to Walmart. , inadvertently repeating a slogan used by Asda, the British subsidiary of which Leighton was once CEO.
She appreciates the “compatibility” with the chair, which Boer describes as a “breath of fresh air.” Leighton says she not only brought humility, kindness and vulnerability to her work, but also the “shining eyes” of a very good retailer. He tells an audience of executives, “Be yourself, believe in yourself, enjoy what you do, and get things done.”
At C&A, she may be making up for lost time.Asked what she would confess to Friday of failure, she eventually admitted that she had been at IKEA too long. It gives when you take a step and you can learn again and know how much you can give [you] so much energy.