Rene Repko – State Of Art Menswear

Rene Repko – State Of Art Menswear

Rene Repko is a well-known marketer in the Netherlands, highly specialised in retail marketing. In his current position as General Manager (a.i.) he is responsible for the management team, e-commerce, and marketing for State of Art Menswear. A fashion retail company with a webshop, 40 stores in the Netherlands and Belgium, and many more shop-in-shop stores. This interview was held during the lockdown of February 2021, after nearly a year of covid. During his work in retail (working for HEMA, Action, Ahold, Rituals etc) he has never experienced such an impact on a business due to the pandemic. We are happy that Rene took the time to talk to us and share his vision on Brand Growth and Data-Driven Decision Making.

Brand Growth

From our Brand Growth Studies, we know that steering on the right KPIs is essential for success. One of the first questions is for that reason all about KPIs. Rene comments on this: “We work with so-called buckets of KPIs. The main bucket is about financial KPIs such as revenue, EBITDA, margin, and profit, which is pretty normal for an investor-owned company. Revenue is our oxygen, so you can say that in this bucket, revenue is the most important one. Next to that, we have the sales bucket, which is about turnover, conversion, traffic, item value, and stock development. These are channel-dependent. We check that daily because we need to check the effects of pricing tactic or a sale, as an example. We also have a CRM bucket with google data and customer data where we look at online orders and returns. And we zoom in on consumer data with NPS and the brand funnel. These buckets are the main indicators for us to check if we are on track or not. It is not a small business anymore and because an investor stepped in, we are more and more data-driven. So, you could say these buckets are more data domains, and we follow them in dashboards. This is quite different from the times State of Art was a family-owned business, where there used to be more of a gut feel approach. But then again, I often worked in an environment with people working on both data and gut feel. That worked very well, so it is not necessary just about data. However, in fashion, good data is absolutely key for success.”

After Covid, Rene shares that he expects growth in turnover and margin: “But I need to have context by looking at price offs, conversion and number of items bought.” This way of working sounds a bit like the Binet/Field ‘zig zag’ model of short-term sales boosts. Rene doesn’t agree: “That could have been a pitfall in food retail, where there are sales activations/promotions all year round. In fashion retail, we only have a few promotion moments per year. That is also the reason I would like to measure brand preference more often, but due to limited budgets this is unfortunately not possible because of covid. However, we also use a lot of data from suppliers in the fashion market and category, to measure relative performance. Due to covid, we see a huge transition from physical buying to online shopping in markets where total sales volume has dropped. So, our relative performance is crucial, especially in present market conditions.”

Data-Driven Decision Making

Rene starts this theme with a remark about data interpretation: “If I look at data, I might draw different conclusions than you. In other words, you could have all the data in the world, but it takes experience and skill to see what it means. But let me explain a bit more about our business: we are broadening our channels. We look at marketplaces and work with e-commerce platforms like Zalando. That is all about data. We are tracking all items shipped, but also taking into account financial data in business cases, such as fees for these digital marketplaces. It means we are constantly looking at extending our sales opportunities, but at the same time, we need to be very critical on margins. Also, rotation data is crucial. It needs to be at a certain level: if it is too low, then it could mean we need to de-list. For us, that is an example of data-driven decision making. But it is also a cultural aspect: are we using all data and the right data? It is a real journey in what to use and how to use it. What I really miss is customer data regarding the brand funnel. That is quite thin, to be honest, but we are working on this mindset. The biggest challenge is the risk of working in silos. In fashion market, I think our company is on par, but do not compare us with a Coolblue for example. We are not there yet, but we will get there step by step as we don’t want to drown in data.’

“If I look at data, I might draw different conclusions than you would. You could have all the data in the world, but it takes experience and skill to see what it means.”

“Within State of Art, our specialists can read all the data sources provided by all the sources mentioned above. They translate it, derive insights from dashboards to what is relevant for us. Next to that, we work closely with lead agencies for ERP, CRM, and e-com. And companies like Magento and Google are important data suppliers as well. At the end of day, it is still the human eye that can connect it all. And what is the role of market research? What I miss is the connection with brand KPIs such as awareness and preference, and how it is developing, compared to competition. These are crucial insights. Research agencies could help me with that, to spot developments in a category. Are there newcomers in a market that might threaten our position? We experienced something like that during my period at HEMA when Action entered the market. That really shook up the business, but our research and mindset did not foresee that.”

Role of marketing

“If you get more data, there might be a risk of overkill”, Rene continues. “Another challenge is the silos as I said, it might lead to the wrong conclusions and the wrong decisions. Data is great, but never forget to use common sense!” Rene looks back: “At HEMA, we had great data suites. And at Albert Heijn, you could say they really are the ‘Ministery of Food Data’. Rituals had only a few of these data suites, but the owner (Raymond Cloosterman) had a good sense of how the brand should develop and an eye on competition. Rituals was much more brand-driven than data-driven, and that worked well as he made excellent decisions. A totally different approach, and difficult to compare the types of organisations. It makes me wonder how the role of data is developing within brands and companies. Will there be one data officer, with an overview of all data? There are pros but also a lot of cons in this. Time will tell how this will develop within companies.”