Huddersfield-based Mamas & Papas is the UK’s biggest own-brand nursery retailer and a multi-national, multi-channel business spanning 40 countries. Supporting families has been in its DNA since it first launched over 40 years ago.
“Being a parent can be a daunting experience,” says Mark Saunders, Mamas & Papas’ CEO since 2019. “All our research and knowledge tells us that parents are looking for support, knowledge and expertise on this journey.”
The brand’s expertise is clearly in demand. During the pandemic, Mamas & Papas opened six new concessions in Next stores and a standalone store, as well as investing significantly in its booming online business.
Such developments follow work that began just prior to Mark’s tenure, that helped lay new foundations for the business, which he and his team have continued to build on ever since.
In 2019, in response to a decline in Mamas & Papas’ revenue, a team from Deloitte worked alongside the brand on a project that cut costs, re-shaped some of the company’s processes and secured private equity investment.
The plan they arrived at included taking tough decisions, like closing under-performing stores while also boosting the brand’s offer with digital services like Click and Collect.
Overall, it enabled Mamas & Papas to cut operating costs by 20 per cent and resulted in further backing from private equity firm Bluegem Capital Partners in 2019.
The work that Deloitte did enabled us to get the company into decent shape. It allowed us to focus on what we should be focusing on. Namely the customer, and being completely obsessed about giving them the best possible experience.
CEO, Mamas & Papas
A focus on the customer
“The work that Deloitte did enabled us to get the company into decent shape,” says Mark. “It allowed us to focus on what we should be focusing on. Namely the customer, and being completely obsessed about giving them the best possible experience.”
In this case, key elements of the reboot included integrating analytic tools, reviewing back-office services to make better use of cloud tech and stripping complexity and cost from the merchandising strategy.
Dave Sharman, a partner in Deloitte’s Financial Advisory practice, is keen to stress the collaboration that brought about such a positive outcome.
“Our shared goal, with Mamas & Papas, was to make the business best in class,” he said.
“Combining a company’s in-depth knowledge and understanding of its products with fresh eyes and a broad view of what is happening in their sector can really help identify where profitability lies.”
Value Creation Services (VCS)
In a tough environment for retailers, companies with a firm grip on their financial and operating models are best placed to thrive.
“We’re now in a post-COVID landscape in which finance and liquidity are no longer separate issues for Boards, CEOs and CFOs,” Dave continued. “Those in the strongest position to thrive are thinking about cash management, performance and financing at all stages of the economic cycle.
“The lending market has grown from four to 140 lenders over the last 10 years and it’s important that businesses are able to make sense of this market.
“Mamas & Papas is a great example of a company that’s continued to make itself an attractive prospect for financial support, should it ever be needed. If companies are in a better financial state before approaching a lender, they can get a better deal, with better rates, more headroom and potentially less borrowing.”
Combining a company’s in-depth knowledge and understanding of its products with fresh eyes and a broad view of what is happening in their sector can really help identify where profitability lies.
Now, with a leaner business model in place, Mamas & Papas has pushed further ahead, offering new customer services.
“When our customers used to come into our shops with a non-working pushchair, we’d give them a loan one,” says Mark. The goods were then sent to head office before being returned post-repair – a huge amount of cost and time split across multiple departments.
“Nine times out of ten the repair could have been done in-store,” he says. “So we’ve now trained staff to do the repair themselves.”
Digital services have also been supercharged with a distinct focus on the needs of new parents who naturally want to touch an important purchase before buying. So how do you bridge that gap, creatively, in a pandemic? With shop floor appointments where staff demonstrate products, using a camera on their head.
“This has been really well received,” Mark continues. “It’s a change that will stay in the business permanently now.”
Trying new stuff
Looking back, Mark describes Mamas & Papas’ collaboration with Deloitte as “fundamental to how our business has performed over the last 18 months”, and notes that being able to build on this foundation has been equally important.
With greater international expansion now a priority for the brand, its investment in digital technology and focus on its customers are complemented by an outward-looking stance that Mark believes can allow businesses to thrive, and ultimately achieve its stated ambition of being the global nursery brand of choice.
“See what other people are doing,” he says. “It doesn’t have to be in your sector and isn’t necessarily about shops. It might be restaurants, or cinemas. It’s about being open-minded to trying new stuff.”