Nicola Frampton joined William Hill in 2010 as Director of Corporate Risk then Group Direct Customer Operations before becoming Managing Director of the UK Retail division in June 2014 during which time she led and implemented a number of major innovation and transformation projects.
Nicola has extensive experience in risk management, assurance, and corporate governance across a wide range of industries, having specialised in these areas of corporate activity at both William Hill and prior to that whilst at Deloitte. She is currently Operations Director at Domino’s Pizza UK and a Non-Executive Director at Frasers Group which benefits from her extensive retail experience.
In a recent chat with CXO Outlook Magazine, Nicola Frampton shares her thoughts on the consumer behavioral changes over the last two years, the emerging trends to watch out for in 2023, the future of brick-and-mortar retail stores, and a lot more. Following are the excerpts from the interview.
How much has consumer behavior changed in the past 2 years? What strategies should marketers implement to keep pace with the ever-altering preferences of the modern consumers?
The last two years have seen unprecedented disruption to consumer behavior which have really fast-tracked things that were probably in motion anyway. It’s the speed of change and the shifting sands of social media platforms and economic confidence looking ahead that will be the key challenge for marketers.
Take media – it used to be all about being on Facebook and Twitter, then Instagram and Tik Tok and hardly anyone watches scheduled TV anymore, it’s all on demand and widely distributed. The businesses that are set up to keep up to speed with where your consumers and how they want to hear could be the difference between sustainable growth or structural decline. Marketers will need advanced digital capability and bench-strength to ensure they can continue to be relevant and connect with their consumers on the platforms that they are using.
I think the other important thing looking ahead will be understanding the impact of inflation on consumer confidence and leaning into their economic challenges in a way that’s meaningful for them.
There’s a strong correlation between confidence and discretionary spending almost regardless of what’s in the bank account. Some sectors will be more impacted than others clearly but the businesses that are tone deaf to how consumers are feeling will inevitably see their customer base decline. Passing on cost increases to protect bottom lines will give short term gain but lead to long term pain. Consumers who need to see, hear, and feel that you’re with them are more likely to be loyal and stay with you for the long term. They’ll spend less but stay longer.
According to you, what are the 3 biggest trends in the FMCG industry to watch out for in 2023?
Firstly, for me, it is the shift of a much wider range of consumers to online shopping. Typically, the domain of the young, people of all generations have had to become digitally savvy in order to connect with each other, with work and even to enjoy leisure or keep fit experiences. Perhaps the biggest digital shift has been
Secondly is the monumental shift towards becoming a cashless society. Where cash was often a means of physical budgeting, now consumers manage their finances differently. Trusted monthly spending patterns have become more blurred and the emerging payment apps that enable consumers to make purchases without payment (e.g pay in four instalments) will continue this trend. And as recession bites I think we’ll see increasingly polarized spending power that businesses will need to quickly decide how to respond and adapt.
Finally, I think that younger consumers in particular have an awareness and conscience about their environment that is leading to a focus on recycled clothing, vintage clothing and also on rental clothing. This will be propelled by the squeeze on incomes, but the reality is that businesses will need to figure out how to operate in a genuinely sustainable way.
What is the future of brick-and-mortar retail stores in the next five years?
Businesses that lack agility, vision, and a real passion for retail at their heart are undoubtedly going to struggle in the perfect storm of digital and hyperinflation.
That being said, as you’d expect from Frasers we are and always will be huge advocates of brick-and-mortar retail. It’s definitely more difficult these days to persuade people to get out and about to go shopping rather than sofa surfing digital stores, but that’s the challenge that really excites the group and is a key focus within the group’s elevation strategy. The future of retail lies in offering an experience that can’t be replicated at home. An environment where the clever curation of shopping, socializing, and entertainment offer an unrivalled day out with the besties or the family.
Anyone wanting to see the future of retail should visit the latest Flannels store in Liverpool. It has a restaurant serving delicious lunches, a gym and smoothie bar for those needing to get their steps up, a dermatology studio and beauty treatments for those in search of a spa style day. A Belong GAME zone for the kids so mum and dad can shop in peace. The next few years will undoubtedly see a lot of casualties.
Nicola, please tell us about your professional and personal background.
I grew up in Bradford in a working-class family and found myself having to leave education at 16 to help with the family finances. I quickly realized that I wanted more from life than an admin role but with little academic qualifications I embarked on a programme of becoming QBE (qualified by experience). What I lacked in certificates I made up for in ambition and self-belief (that bit was hard work) and to be fair I was also extremely lucky. My career journey isn’t an obvious one on the face of it but looking back I can pinpoint the individual elements in my career journey that lead me to the paths that I took. I gained professional qualifications on the way and gained my biggest step up the ladder through a number of years working in professional services, starting with Coopers & Lybrand in 1999 and leaving Deloitte in 2010 as a Director in Enterprise Risk Management. Professional services experience definitely opened doors and ultimately took me to both of my current roles which I love.
How did your journey at Domino’s Pizza UK & Ireland Ltd begin? What type of challenges do you face in your current role and how do you overcome them?
Prior to joining Domino’s, I was the MD of the retail arm of William Hill. Part of the fall-out of lockdown 2020 was the closure of the division for the best part of 3 months. During that time, I had time to think and work on the strategy for coming back which included the merger of retail with its younger sister division, UK Online. I took the decision to leave the business and having been 3 years into my NED role at Frasers by this point I had decided to progress my NED career. However, then the Domino’s role came up and it seemed like a great opportunity to join a business with a different set of challenges but where I could really see my previous experiences being able to add a lot of value. I joined them in April 2021. Having been the MD of my entire retail division, finding myself ‘running’ a franchised business where I have 65 bosses not one and where everyone had decades of experience and expertise versus my none has been quite a challenge. But when you’re QBE, you have an awful lot of practical experience to draw upon and so I put together a structured approach to enable me to adapt. I started on the most simple of things, building trust and being authentic. I’m low ego anyway and I didn’t try to pretend I knew anything, but I listened and I learned. I prioritized the things which really mattered to my team and to my franchisees and focused on getting them done first. I earned the right to have difficult conversations and I earned the respect of the people around me as a result. I am proud to work with a talented group of entrepreneurs that grew their own businesses from nothing and who put their homes and livelihoods on the line for something they believed in. I have so much respect for what they’ve individually and collectively achieved, and I have learned more than I could ever have anticipated at the beginning.
You are a Non-Executive Director at Frasers Group. Can you brief us about the group and your role.
I joined the business when it was known as Sports Direct back in 2018 as a non-executive director, and have been lucky to work as a director on the board that has overseen its transformation from Sports Direct to Frasers Group as well as its transition from Mike Ashley to Michael Murray (the visionary CEO at the heart of the group’s transformation that you can’t help but have seen on our high streets and in our shopping centres).
I joined the party quite late in the grand scheme of things. I talked about entrepreneurs earlier and Mike Ashley is the ultimate entrepreneur. Frasers Group started as a small store in Maidenhead in 1982. By the late 1990s, he had opened 100 stores across the UK, rebranding his chain as Sports Soccer and acquiring some major brands including Donnay. By 2008 we were trading under the name Sports Direct and by that time we had become a high street stalwart.
As we grew, we became more than just a sports retailer, rebranding as Frasers Group in 2019. We established our three core pillars: Sports, Lifestyle and Luxury. These pillars underpin our elevation strategy to rethink retail by focusing on store experience, digital and product. Our pioneering approach to retail elevation is showing no sign of slowing, and as we continue to grow our stores, we turn our attention to continually transforming our own brands.
What was it like working as a Police Officer at West Yorkshire Police. Tell us about your experience and the lessons you learned along the way.
I joined West Yorkshire Police at the start of my QBE journey, quickly learning how to handle conflict and difficult situations. It makes you mature quickly and teaches the importance of tolerance, empathy, and backbone. Hand on heart I never experienced sexism, but I learned a lot about banter, how to give as good as I got (which I did) and how to find resilience. It’s a tough career and I admire all of our emergency services because of what they do for us day in day out. But it wasn’t for me and so I set off down the next path of my career after just two years.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
It was from one of the senior partners at Deloitte. He’d been my mentor at the firm for many years and had coached and cajoled me through my professional services career which included having my family, returning, and continuing to grow. You’re only ever as good as the team that you have so don’t pick people who will agree with you, pick people who will challenge you and who collectively will have a diversity that no one person can have. But as you rise to the top of the slippery career ladder as a result of your shared achievements, don’t forget to turn around and pull up the people behind you that helped you get there.
Tell us about Nicola outside of work, your motivations, and what you would like to achieve in the future.
My garden is my happy place. I love spending time there away from the brain work and doing physical work in the fresh air. It’s such a contrast from my day job. I’m a mum and building a strong future for my son has been a massive motivation. I didn’t have choices when I was his age, I had to start work. I don’t have career aspirations for him other than ensuring he has choices. He’s at university right now and I couldn’t be more proud and I will be happy to support him in whatever he decides to do next.
Which one of your accomplishments makes you the proudest till date?
It has to be working with Frasers Group. The executive and non-executive team on the board are all highly talented, experienced, and inclusive humans. Being a small part of this team has been a pleasure and a privilege and seeing the business list on the FTSE100 recently was a moment of huge pride.
You have had a remarkable career trajectory over the years. What is the secret mantra behind your success?
You can be what you want to be. Qualifications are important but not having them doesn’t mean you aren’t capable, able, or talented, it just means you’ve chosen or had to take a different route. Once I lost the chip on my shoulder about not having a degree and learned to recognize the value of my experiences and authenticity I haven’t looked back. That and being lucky to work with some amazingly supportive leaders across my many roles. That’s what I aspire to be for my teams.