If you’ve been keeping up with the times, odds are you’ve done some online shopping recently. The odds that you’ve come across industry giant ASOS are pretty high, too.
In Episode 105 of Earned, Conor sits down with Dan Elton, Senior Director of Customer and Marketing at ASOS. The online, fashion-forward retailer was founded in 2000 in London, and sports its own annual Beauty Awards while also publishing the latest and greatest on all things fashion.
We start the episode by diving into Dan’s thought process behind “starting at the ground floor” by focusing on stabilizing the brand, rebuilding the balance sheet, and refreshing the leadership team. We learn about ASOS’ goal to be in a position of growth, as well as its unique perspective on styling, which sets the brand apart from fellow industry leaders. Unpacking Dan’s experience in vastly different industries and companies, from Deloitte to Google, we hear what lessons he took from each stop on his journey, and how they shaped him into the executive he is today. Emphasizing his tenure working at Tesco and Sainsbury’s, Dan reveals how the grocery industry’s prioritization of quick execution drew him in, but the quality of leadership he was learning from kept him there. Dan underscores the importance of building internal muscle for branded content and how a focus on selling a vision is vital. Additionally, Dan shares what he took away from his time working with MADE, an online furniture retailer that revolutionized the way London residents furnish their homes. To close the show, we switch gears and hear about Dan’s post-pandemic and self-proclaimed cliché hobby.
The following interview has been lightly edited for concision.
“We have this unique perspective on what style and fashion means”: Dan Elton on What Sets ASOS Apart
Conor Begley: I want to go over your background and go through your history because there's so much leading into this. You've only just started at ASOS fairly recently, but now that you've gone through the planning process, you understand the landscape. So I'm curious, what is the plan?
Dan Elton: So I've been at ASOS for seven months and I joined halfway through the year, so my focus has been on stabilizing the brand, rebuilding the balance sheet, and refreshing the leadership team. That was a really exciting thing to be a part of for me, and I wanted to get in at the ground floor of this new phase for ASOS. I've walked into turnaround strategies halfway through, and it's not nearly as fun as when you get in at the ground floor and you can be part of a team who are really bonding. So I was really excited to join José and the rest of the leadership team here [at ASOS].
Last year was about José's strategy to rebuild the balance sheet, which we've done, refresh the leadership, and take a bit of cost out of the business. This year is about getting the business back to a position where we can grow again. For us, that means a bunch of things, but some of the things that it means, I think, that would be particularly interesting for you and your listeners are about rebuilding our customer journey around fashion. Getting back to the essence of what our brand is about and moving beyond just being a performance advertiser, which is where ASOS has been recently. That's the bit that I'm most excited about.
There are lots of other parts of our strategy. We have a unique perspective on styling. For customers or for listeners who don't know ASOS, we are a very strong mixture between a bunch of strong owned brands like ASOS Design and TopShop, but also third party brands like Nike, Carhartt, Adidas, and many others. So we have this unique perspective on what style and fashion means. You often find mono brands or just third party branded retailers, but we do something a little bit different. So the strategy is built on a number of things, but those are the two that probably excite me the most.
“You can make a change in the morning, and you can see the impact of that change in the afternoon”: How The Grocery Industry Kept Dan on his Toes
Conor Begley: Interestingly, you didn't start on the apparel side, right? Your original time was at Deloitte on the consulting side, and then you spent close to a decade in the grocery sector. I'd love to know what attracted you to that sector? What are some of the surprising learnings about how the grocery sector markets itself? I'm curious what you learned during that time.
Dan Elton: It's a great question. My friends are a lot more interested now that I work in fashion than they were when I worked in grocery. I could talk about grocery all day. I started in consulting and it was a classic experience. It was learning all the frameworks, learning how to understand the guts of an industry very quickly. When you're in your early twenties, that's fun, but eventually the airport lounges and hotels get old. I found myself working in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. I don't know if you've ever been to Pine Bluff, Arkansas, but it's the 10th-biggest city in Arkansas. Don't ask how a London-based management consultant ended up in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, but I did. It was incredible to be in a factory rather than actually just writing PowerPoint presentations all day.
So I vowed to myself that when I got back from Pine Bluff, I was going to go and find a real job. I mostly worked in the media industry up to that point. I was going for a job at a big media player in the U.K. and I thought I'll go for interview practice at Tesco. I had no interest in joining, but I'd been talked into it by a recruiter and thought I'd join. What attracted me to grocery in the first instance was that for the first time in my career, I met someone who was a super inspirational leader. Someone who thought about people, people development, and the possibilities for them. So I never even went to that other interview. I said yes straightaway, I went through another interview round, and I went to work for him. I never looked back. Grocery is the most incredible place to learn. If you're working in big-box grocery, the ability to execute quickly is remarkable. You can make a change today, in the morning, and you can see the impact of that change in the afternoon. That for me was incredibly seductive.
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