My life in the grocery trade

Simon Layton, head of region for M&S Northern Ireland

WHAT IS YOUR BACKGROUND?
I started in retail at 16, working for Boots, and loved the interaction with real people – especially as I worked on the photo counter, processing customers’ memories. I joined M&S through the Business Placement Programme in 2003, as part of my university studies, and found that my early retail experience was invaluable, transferrable and gave me the opportunity to realise my dream of leading a team of people to deliver great things every day.

WHAT DOES YOUR ROLE INVOLVE?
I work with 21 amazing store teams in Northern Ireland and am ultimately responsible for leading all the store managers to inspire their teams to make every moment special for their customers. I love my job – when I started as a business development trainee, I always wanted to run a region in M&S and I’m very excited to be working alongside such an enthusiastic team in Northern Ireland.

WHEN DID YOU TAKE UP THIS POST?
I am pretty new to the role, having only started in May, but I’ve already spent time in all of our 21 stores and am getting to know everyone very quickly.

WHAT ARE THE BEST /WORST PARTS OF YOUR JOB?
I love the diversity of my job. There’s no other business where, under one roof, you are responsible for a phenomenal food operation, cafés, delis, bakeries and the wide age range of our clothing offer.
There isn’t a worst part of the job – when things go wrong, it’s actually quite exciting to find ways to put the customer first and fix them without anyone noticing. We have a lot of things that are out of my control such as the weather affecting sailings and deliveries because our food is so fresh, but I have a great team that keep things moving as much as possible and we work hard to minimise any disruption to our Northern Ireland customers.

BRIEFLY OUTLINE A TYPICAL DAY
The great thing about working for M&S is that every day is different. I’m usually talking to people, which is what I love doing the most – and that could be visiting a store, talking about how we can enhance the customer experience or visiting a local community project to see how our teams are making a difference.
I spend most of my time on our sales floors, hearing from customers and our great colleagues. About once a month, I travel across to our Head Office in London, to hear about our plans for new initiatives and projects or to other regions so that we can share ideas together to be better for our customers.

WHAT HAS BEEN THE PROUDEST MOMENT OF YOUR CAREER TO DATE?
There have been so many. I have been so proud to lead many amazing teams but the standout moment for me was opening my own store. The buzz on opening day, after so much hard work is hard to match.

WHAT IS THE BEST THING ABOUT BEING INVOLVED WITH THE LOCAL RETAIL INDUSTRY?
I love the buzz of retail – it’s an exciting, diverse and dynamic industry, continuously adapting as a result of consumers’ changing shopping habits, competition, new technology and rising costs.
I’m fairly new to the local retail industry but I’m very clear that we have an important role to play in supporting our local farmers, producers, town centres and the communities in which we work. Having celebrated 50 years of trading in Northern Ireland last year, it is evident how connected our customer is with the M&S brand and our local supply base here.

WHAT DO YOU LIKE TO DO TO UNWIND AWAY FROM WORK?
I have a passion for cars and anything mechanical. I also love to travel when I can and have just returned from exploring western Canada.

TELL US SOMETHING ABOUT YOURSELF THAT NOT MANY PEOPLE MAY KNOW
I’ve been to Walt Disney World 16 times! I find the organisation of the parks fascinating which is something I have integrated into my work to provide M&S customers with an enhanced shopping experience.

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