Retail is not dead says new CEO of Gibbons Company
Gibbons Company’s new chief executive officer wants Bermuda to know that contrary to popular opinion, retail is not dead.
“Retail is very much alive,” said Tony Thompson, who took over from Paula Clarke on July 1. “It is just a matter of what form of retail the company takes on. Online is extremely important, but most of our sales come through brick and mortar stores. It is extremely important companies be versatile in how they service their customers.”
During the pandemic the internet was a lifeline for Gibbons Company.
Mr Thompson was part of a project to develop the company’s website, more fully, in December 2019.
"It was really just a test to see if the local customer would shop on a local website," he said. "It did so well we decided to extend it and keep it on through 2020."
When the pandemic hit in March 2020, they were deeply grateful they had done the work on the website. All they had to do was upload more products onto the website.
“For two months it was our only source of income,” he said.
He said his predecessor, Paula Clarke, did a great job manning the store during the health crisis.
“She did not panic,” he said. “She saw it was going to happen. We were able to witness other countries experiencing it before us. We kind of knew what was going to happen before it came and we mitigated our risk.”
Their biggest risk was inventory.
"We did not want to own too much inventory over the pandemic," he said. "That was the first thing we attacked. Then it was really about how do we reopen in a meaningful way with the right product. Now that we are coming on the other side of the pandemic, we are looking at what trends will remain and what will evolve and move forward."
Mr Thompson has worked his way up the ranks at the company over the course of 16 years.
"When I came to Gibbons Company, I had just turned 25," he said. "As a junior buyer I was the youngest person in the buying office. Then I became a full buyer. At that point I was at least ten to 15 years younger than the next person in the same position as me."
He became a divisional merchandising manager at Gibbons Company six years ago.
As a teenager, he wanted to become a fashion designer, and studied fashion design and merchandising at the International Academy of Design in Toronto, Canada. During school breaks he worked as a sales associate at the old Trimingham’s department store in Hamilton.
When he returned to Bermuda after graduation, Trimingham’s offered him a full-time position as an administrative assistant in the buying office. Six months later he was an assistant buyer at the store.
In 2005, he moved across the street to become a junior buyer at Gibbons Company, working in juniors’ dresses and maternity. Within three months he moved up to full buyer and took over other women's fashion departments.
"I thought that was a great opportunity to step up," he said.
While he is still passionate about fashion, he gave up on becoming a fashion designer, a long time ago. He did not much like sewing, and he really did not like fabric stores.
"When I decided that retail would be my career path, I wanted to be a general merchandise manager,“ he said. ”I love products, customer service and visual merchandising.“
In his private life he loves playing tennis, and played on the Davis Cup team when he was 24. That competitiveness finds its way into his working life.
"I have every intention of winning the retail game," he said.
But he sees his biggest competitors as overseas online stores, rather than local stores. He welcomes local competition.
"When you do not have enough variety in a certain place, it deters people from coming to shop," he said. "AS Coopers closing seems all great for us, but we knew that there would be less variety in Hamilton and people maybe would not come to Hamilton to shop. They are going to want to go online. Once you have a habit of not coming to Hamilton, it is hard to break that. We are excited to see small retailers coming out, and we hope that they are successful."