It’s hard not to feel sympathy for Mark Newton-Jones who left Mothercare this week to be replaced by former Tesco executive David Wood.
Sure, times have been hard of late with redundancies, a profit warning and a plea to lenders to waive financial covenants; but Mothercare is far from alone in finding competition on the high street especially brutal.
Newton-Jones arrived at Mothercare in 2014 with the business on its knees and leaves it still in a parlous position, but in the intervening period, he has achieved many good things. In particular, he has built its digital capabilities to the point where online sales account for almost half of UK retail sales.
But Newton-Jones has never had any breathing space at Mothercare and has not been helped in recent times by a high turnover of staff and the departure of key executives such as brand and marketing director Gary Kibble who jumped ship to Sainsbury’s Argos last year.
It seems the board feels it’s time for a refresh as Mothercare embarks on the second phase of its transformation programme which places a particular focus on improving performance internationally, as well as in the UK, and delivering an outstanding customer experience while at the same time reducing operational costs.
Turnaround expert Wood feels very much like the right horse for this particular course. He is currently group president of Ksmart, the US grocery retailer and pharmaceutical business, where he is credited with transforming the customer value proposition and retail operating model and returning the business to sustainable profit growth.
Mothercare’s shareholders will be banking on Wood’s ability to achieve a similar result back on home soil, and he certainly has the credentials to suggest such faith is well placed. Wood began his career on the supplier side with Unilever and then with Kraft Foods before moving to Tesco as commercial category director in 2017. Following a stint as commercial director in Hungary, he was appointed to chief marketing officer in 2012 before becoming chair and subsequently managing director of Tesco’s Nutricentre health and wellbeing business. Wood left the business for Kmart in 2015, a year before Nutricentre was axed by Tesco, and has spent the past three years rejuvenating a business that was failing to deliver for its customers.
Wood is smart and personable with a great retail pedigree and a reputation for bringing excellence to retail operations. I’ve no doubt an immediate focus will be on winning back shoppers by revitalising the in-store proposition, which despite Newton-Jones’s best efforts remains somewhat uninspiring.
It’s a huge task that faces Wood but he has the qualities and experience to give Mothercare a fighting chance of regaining its status as the store of choice for parents and grandparents.