Jo Watson of BooHoo at The Procurement Summit

We previewed the session from Jo Watson of Boohoo ahead of the recent Procurement Summit in Manchester, and were delighted that her actual contribution more than lived up to our expectations.

Boohoo is an online fashion retailer that adds 200 new garments a day onto its website, to give you some idea of the scale and fast-moving nature of the business. Interesting, 50% of the garments are made in the UK – I admit, I didn’t think there was any clothing manufacturing left here!

Watson and her team of four handle the £80m a year (and growing rapidly) indirect spend. Total business revenues are around £250m and growing at 50% a year.  As the first procurement professional employed by the entrepreneurial founders of the firm, Watson implemented a “6C model”, focusing on:

  • Cost control
  • Catalogue of procurement documents
  • Category knowledge and expertise
  • Communication and feedback
  • Continuous promotion of team
  • Collaborate and live the business values

Cost control is part of culture, and the founder previously “did all the deals” before Watson came along. He wanted all spend over £10K to go through procurement, a low threshold given the procurement resource available. So the team is “inundated with projects”.

Given the fast-moving culture, the team has kept forms, documents and processes simple. “I want a team that really thinks about every requirement, not just follows rules”.  As a small team, there is no rigid category management structure – “we have some specialisms but we all work across the whole spend.”

Watson was most passionate when she talked about the need for the soft skills – “that is what sets us apart.  We need emotional and social intelligence to work successfully across the organisation – my most junior buyer has to be capable of working with the CEO”.  Her presentation was full of good advice – and some great sound-bites.

“We don’t demand respect, we earn it”.

“Don’t use jargon, communicate in the stakeholder's language – use kisses and emojis if you’re working with that sort of person”.  (Clearly, there are some young and hip fashion buyers among the user base)!

Her team embed themselves in the business teams, work at pace and “hot desk” with stakeholders. They recognise it is “our stakeholders budget, not ours”. But they are happy to play the bad cop role  with suppliers, where shareholders appreciate it. Watson runs training courses on negotiation for both her team and the wider stakeholder group, which has built more respect for procurement, and also presents a module on the company’s “stepping into management” course for new managers.

It sounds like an amazing business actually – I did ask if they had any jobs for ageing male buyers with limited fashion sense but I’m not sure anything will be forthcoming! As Watson said, “It is great fun working here, and we enjoy coming to work”.  However, she expressed a note of caution – “it is a party culture, but we have to teach stakeholders that the supplier is not really interested in the party when they invite you out - they do have other motives!”

Finally, some key messages from the excellent session – words of wisdom from Watson that are highly applicable to pretty much any procurement function:

  • Be agile, flexible and be prepared to tear up the rule book
  • Employ the right personalities – never settle for a close fit
  • Embed yourself with stakeholders
  • Don’t be afraid to challenge and question at all levels – respect the person not the job title
  • Encourage innovative thinking and entrepreneurial spirit
  • Keep it real and always take a common-sense approach

First Voice

  1. Nicholas Martin:

    This is a very interesting article. I was at the procurement summit but missed this session. It’s great to see some practical advice, and it does sound like a great place to work.

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