Catalogers of the Year
The company went public in 1983 and maintained an aggressive growth strategy. But Connolly recalls mis-steps along the way, including the introduction of new catalogs that cannibalized one another. “And I was the architect of that action,” he says without hesitation in admitting his mistakes. “We had to crawl out of that and re-establish ourselves. People here really pulled together for it.” He credits Lester, still the company’s chairman, for his strong leadership during those dark days.
“Managing our growth over the years has been challenging,” Connolly says. “We have the leadership in place to make it happen, but it’s not a simple business. The brands you develop must fit your customer profile, and you need sufficient growth potential to merit the attention you’ll give to the business.”
Another challenge has been attracting and retaining great people. Williams-Sonoma believes in growing its talent from within. Indeed, many of the company’s senior-level executives, he says, “have grown up within Williams-Sonoma.”
Today, Connolly is responsible for the company’s brand direct marketing, public relations and marketing communications, creative services and e-commerce strategy. Three years ago, Williams-Sonoma reorganized its operations by brand and “de-siloed” the channels, which used to run separately. “Today, you simply couldn’t run eight different brands each by its own separate channels,” Connolly concedes. “It would be too difficult.”
When asked what he is most proud of in his work life, he points to the Williams-Sonoma leadership teams’ ability to execute a multichannel strategy. “We now have 560 stores, and our direct business will be about $1.5 billion this year. We’ve built that from almost nothing,” he says. “Here at Williams-Sonoma, many people have worked on that multichannel strategy, not just me.”
At Williams-Sonoma, he continues, there are no barriers to multichannel success. “At other companies, I think multichannel is too political,” he says. The problem is not that marketers don’t know how to execute a multichannel strategy; rather, “it’s the territorial nature of channel management,” he cautions. “We’re lucky in that we have a strong direct marketing background. We don’t try to drive customers to one channel or another. Rather, we try for customer loyalty and world-class customer service across all channels.”