Meet… Charlotte Gillan
Managing Director of Classic Canes
What does your position involve?
Everything involved in the running of a small business, from choosing and designing the new products to looking after the marketing, promotion and sales of the company. Of course, I am lucky to have other talented people to help me, including our financial controller, office manager, warehouse manager and undeniably my parents.
What do you enjoy most about your job and working in the industry?
The variety is certainly one of the most enjoyable elements. Exporting to over 40 countries means we meet a lot of different and fascinating people from all sorts of cultures all around the world. All these people have very different requirements, which is why we have ended up with more than 700 walking sticks in our range.
What is one of your proudest moments working in the industry?
Last year was our 35th anniversary, which I think is a great achievement for a small and very specialist business.
Also, in 2017, we were very honoured to produce a new range with the National Gallery in London. It gave us the opportunity to put some of their most famous works of art, such as Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, onto our walking sticks and it is proving very successful.
For me, it is always a proud moment when we are at a trade show and someone walks onto our stand and already knows all about who we are and what we do.
What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in the industry over the years?
When we started, there were very few mobility shops and that has changed a lot for us. The traditional shops that we used to supply, such as tobacconists and gentlemen’s outfitters, are now more of a rarity, whereas the mobility sector has grown to be a significant sector of our customer base.
It was very much the case that these mobility shops came to us, rather than us seeking them. Initially we assumed, wrongly, that they would only be interested in very basic walking sticks for their market and indeed, there are some for whom a rock-bottom price is almost the only important attribute for a product. However, there are others who can sell on the basis of quality, style and design, and these have turned out to be a very good group of customers for Classic Canes.
The other thing that has changed a lot for us is the rise in the popularity for women’s walking sticks. When we started 36 years ago, there were no women’s walking sticks; ladies had to have a man’s stick cut down to size instead. We have done a lot of work over the decades to create smaller, prettier, more feminine walking sticks which has helped our business a great deal.
What one innovation would you like to see appear in the market?
I think all employers think that robots look like a great idea at times! Robot employees to help our retailers keep their walking stick displays looking tip-top could be of benefit to all. We find the biggest impediments to retail sales are poor display and low stock levels. These wonderful, tireless merchandising-bots would always notice when the walking stick display stands needed tidying and cleaning and they would never forget to reorder when more stock was needed. Bring them on!
What are your interests outside of work?
Dogs, horses, fashion, reading and gardening. This is why I have to work so hard.
We spend a lot of time outdoors here in Somerset and gain a lot of our inspiration from the English countryside. It is a great environment for coming up with patterns, designs and colours for new products. It gives us the chance to take some time away from the business, whilst at the same time coming up with ideas that we wouldn’t have whilst sat at a desk.
This helps us maintain our very British look, which is hugely important as we export a lot and our British heritage and style is one of the most unique selling points abroad.
There is a perception around the world that Britain stands for great quality, style and tradition, which are all things we strive for and something our overseas customers expect.
If you had to do any other job in the world, what would it be?
I used to write fashion and lifestyle features articles as a freelancer and would love to edit an important fashion magazine like Vogue. Unfortunately, they recently took on a new editor so I’ve missed my chance!
I believe there could be a market out there for very fashionable, lifestyle magazine aimed at the older customer because it is very difficult to find anything like that.
We find that a lot of our stockists struggle to find suitable lifestyle publications in which to advertise in order to reach the more affluent, older consumer. So there could be space out there for Granny Vogue.
Describe yourself in three words
Determined, stylish and kind-hearted
What’s your favourite song?
I couldn’t restrict myself to one favourite song. I love opera and recently saw a great production of Tosca. I’ve been humming Vissi d’arte, vissi d’amore ever since.
If you could have a superpower, what would it be?
I would love to read people’s minds
Favourite place in the world
It has to be Somerset. We have everything: beaches, moorland, countryside, beautiful villages and, of course, all those cider farms. It is a fabulous place to live and work.