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Card Factory’s ceo Darcy Willson-Rymer makes top 100

WHS’ Carl Cowling also features in Retail 100 index of influential executives


Greeting card top brass have secured slots in Retail Week’s Retail 100, the annual index celebrating the retail sector’s most influential individuals driving people, purpose and profits.

Card Factory ceo Darcy Willson-Rymer was named as “one to watch” in last year’s list and has run with that by being among the increase of executives recognised as being part of the strategists’ group thanks to what Retail Week called his “impressive turnaround” at the greeting card giant, while WHSmith chief executive Carl Cowling also features in the same group of achievers.

Above: Retail Week’s Retail 100 is the annual index of the most influential execs
Above: Retail Week’s Retail 100 is the annual index of the most influential execs

And the 2023 Retail 100 includes executives from greeting card stockists such as Aldi, Amazon, Asda, B&M, Boots, Co-Op, Fortnum & Mason, Frasers Group, Harrods, John Lewis Partnership, Marks & Spencer, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Theo Paphitis Retail Group, Waitrose, and Waterstones.

Retail Week said: “Notably, there is a sea change in strategies, investment priorities and management styles. UK retail bosses have had to make smart and often tough decisions against inflationary pressures and the cost-of-living crisis to maintain customer demand and manage their bottom lines.”

The team of journalists from the industry’s news and data website used research from March to August this year to pick the 100 retail leaders making the biggest inroads across six categories – seven Dealmakers, six Disruptors, 23 Experience Innovators, 10 People Champions, 44 Strategists, and 10 Sustainability Activists.

Above: Darcy Willson-Rymer has given Card Factory an “impressive turnaround”
Above: Darcy Willson-Rymer has given Card Factory an “impressive turnaround”

As strategists, both Darcy and Carl are considered to be “retail bosses driving significant change in a variety of ways, from adopting new channels and technologies, to new ways of thinking”, while Waterstones’ ceo James Daunt is defined as an ‘experience innovator’, one of the “people driving innovation in the experience economy, leading customer experience and marketing advancements, and reigniting the thrill of shopping”.

Retail Week said Darcy’s work over the past year “proves our journalists were right to bet on him” as one to watch last year, because he has pursued an “aggressive growth strategy” aimed at shifting Card Factory from being product-led to customer-led.

It added: “Launched in FY2022, the Opening Our New Future plan comprises digital transformation and CX investments – including the launch of its first UK-wide click-and-collect service in May – targeted price increases and international expansion.

Above: There’s high praise for Carl Cowling
Above: There’s high praise for Carl Cowling

“The results are paying off; for the full year to January 31, 2023, Card Factory reported a leap in profits to £52.4m, up from £11.1m the previous year, and for the six months to July 31, 2023, reported performance “materially ahead” of management expectations.

“Having opened its first Middle East store in July, Darcy is intent on making Card Factory the leading competitor globally. As Clintons mulls major store closures to avoid insolvency, he is on track to achieve his goal – in the UK at least.”

For WHS boss Carl, who was named Retail Leader Of The Year at the 2023 Retail Week Awards, there was even higher praise, as he was said to have had “an incredible 12 months at the helm, showing just what can be achieved with an effective strategy”.

He was praised for having come back from the issues caused by the pandemic’s abrupt halting of global travel to “plough on with an ambitious international growth agenda” as the “bold vision to move from convenience stores to one-stop ships for travel essentials has transformed the retailer’s fortunes”.

Above: James Daunt has “revived Waterstones”
Above: James Daunt has “revived Waterstones”

And James, awarded a CBC for services to publishing in the late Queen Elizabeth II’s final Birthday Honours List last June, was said to have “revived Waterstones and capitalised on the opportunity to bring customers back to his bookshops” after stores were shuttered through Covid.

The books, greeting card and gift retailer posted a £42.1million profit after tax in the financial year to April 2022, up from the £19.7m in pre-pandemic 2019/20, and has added three new stores this year to the 13 opened last year.

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