“Experience is Everything” – Experts Discuss Why Retailers Need to Focus on Employee Experience

Experience is everything, particularly for employees. Austin Cooke, COO of Poundland and Jon Kelly, MD of live events agency Meet & Potato explain why retailers need to focus as much on employee experience as they do on customer experience in order to drive commercial gain.

So often in the world of retail, the focus is on the experience of the customer. And whilst this is of utmost importance, Poundland COO, Austin Cooke, argues the customer experience will never be better than the colleague experience, and that the two are intrinsically linked.

Austin Cooke

Poundland invests in an annual conference and quarterly regional roadshows that supports this sentiment. Talking about this, Austin said:

“The annual conference is the one time in the year we can get everyone together. We share universal messages, have one big party and set the tone for the next financial year. We also do regional roadshows every quarter which sees the board visit 7 regions across 4 days to provide company updates and make sure we see every store manager once every quarter.

“The conference in particular allows us to reward and recognise teams and individuals who are adding value to the business, with life changing prizes such as having their mortgage paid, winning brand new cars, luxury holidays etc. We launch the strategy for the following year, set out our aims and ambitions and give our teams the motivation and momentum to take back to their stores to help us deliver. This is a huge culture piece for the business and it’s massively valuable.

Having a People Focus is one of the key elements of Poundland’s business strategy. “Our people are our biggest asset and we need to make sure they know that. But when it comes to events, it has to be done right. The conference is our once in a year opportunity to communicate and appreciate a mass live audience, and we need to use experts in the business to help us with that.”


So how do brands do this successfully? 

Jon Kelly

Jon Kelly, MD of Meet and Potato, an agency that produces live and virtual events and content, designed to creatively showcase their clients’ business strategy, argues that authentic brand experience is paramount.

“When putting on an internal event for a retail business, we need to understand their strategy, values and personality, and most importantly, their audience. We need to echo this knowledge across every aspect of the event environment. The Poundland conference is a great example. Colleagues need to feel immersed in the brand, and that their experience is as important as the end customers’. The event has to practice what the brand preaches. For example, Poundland has a minimal queueing policy in store, so it’s our job to ensure that during the time 1400 of their people are with us at the conference, they’re not queuing too long to register, to go into a breakout session or for their lunch.”

Just as important as the physical environment, is the messaging.


“We work closely with business leaders to develop really inspirational content to motivate their retail teams to deliver. These events are huge catalysts for the business and set the tone for the year, so we need to be bang up to date with the brand priorities to make sure the key messages land with the audience.

“Once we have the environment and the content in place, it all comes down to delivery. We always encourage the brands we work with, to be human, bring their true personality into the event and engage with their employees authentically just as they encourage colleagues to do in store. You don’t want a top down culture at an event, with no emotion or personality, that won’t motivate your teams. The whole experience needs to leave them feeling informed, entertained and appreciated.


Asked how Austin knows these events work he replies, “We notice a huge uptick in the productivity of our teams and we also notice a drop in attrition. We put the effort in with our internal teams, so they pass this on to our customers. This matters, and in retail at the moment, where there is consistent negative news, it matters more than ever. Invest in your teams so they invest in you and drive sales. It makes commercial sense by building loyalty and retention for your business. And don’t take yourselves too seriously. Our board loves these events, we’re often presented with the most outlandish ideas for delivery and if it will help the message land in a memorable way, we go with them.


Jon agrees. “Every business is different and not everyone will be comfortable being too zany, but find your comfort level and go for it. With a bit of expert guidance, a brand can create truly memorable experiences to engage and inspire their teams.”


For more information or to discover other ideas for employer events, visit www.mandp.agency