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CMO50 2021 #26-50: Kristin Viccars

  • Name Kristin Viccars
  • Title Marketing director
  • Company Apex Tool Group
  • Commenced role February 2017
  • Reporting Line CEO
  • Member of the Executive Team Yes
  • Marketing Function 8 staff, 4 direct reports
  • Industry Sector Manufacturing
  • 2020 ranking New to CMO50
  • Related

    Brand Post

    “While data is critically important for any decision making, what I’ve learnt is you need to be prepared to change the vision, take bold risks and be unapologetic in executing things differently,” Kristin Viccars says. “You must be comfortable with being uncomfortable.”

    For Viccars, the past year hasn’t been without its challenges. “While I have always tried to prepare for the unexpected, I’ve never had to make such a tough leadership decision as announcing a business model change with a restructure. Sadly, this resulted in me having to announce redundancies during a global pandemic,” he explains.

    In addition to these challenges, Viccars worked along with APEX Tool Group (ATG) MD, Tim Ohlback, to position and embed marketing and the consumer at the heart of everything it does. This major structural change is helping the group become a marketing led organisation with a very bright future, he says.

    Innovative marketing

    Taking Gearwrench from a functional brand to a mainstream high-performance lifestyle brand has been the headline for Viccars. The challenge was to take a niche brand with a niche following within the mechanical trade segment and take it mainstream across PRO/DIY consumers and supporting retail customers.

    “We needed to take a functional solution for professional trades people and broaden the horizon where the brand can be seen additionally as a lifestyle choice to include recreational hobbies including weekend projects on cars, motorbikes, 4x4 and camping,” he says.

    Yet ATG faced low brand awareness and distribution limited to the tool specialist channel. Packaging and brand were tired and in need of a facelift to target the younger consumer.

    Viccars initiated a large-scale project that included qualitative (Honeycomb) and quantitative (Focus Insights) focus groups to deep dive across a representative sample of 1500 trade and DIY users and gain key insights into their wants, needs and likes. The brand then created the first ever TV/digital campaign.

    “This ensured we created the most impact for the brand across a wider more diverse audience based on lifestyle interests,” he says.

    On a lighter note, Viccars cast a diesel fitter mining mate in the first major Gearwrench ad. The campaign went on to achieve 15 million impressions with total market saturation multiple times over. The brand saw a four-fold uplift on all categories through Covid and estimated 6x uplift versus competitors.

    “Our research busted the internal myth our audience was all males in mechanical trades interested in motorsport,” Viccars adds.

    Data-driven approach

    Using data-led consumer insights has transformed the marketing team’s decision-making process. With a lack of understanding around consumers and their behaviours or how and where they shopped, the businesses needed to deep dive to challenge thinking and use data to not only unlock insights but turn them into action.

    A decision was made to remove funding on multiple brands and reinvest in consumer and market research. While there was short-term pain and pressure with sales reducing on discontinued brands, the insights dramatically accelerated accuracy and sales on focused brands.

    “We conducted a wide range of qualitative, quantitative, focus groups and voice of the consumer/customer [VOC] research. We also created data-led processes in building consumers’ pain and gains, a path to purchase, consumer journey time of day and similar consumer-led insights,” Viccars explains.

    In part, this entailed working with agencies to find digital and technology solutions to capitalise on information. ATG also engaged B2B customers in the path to purchase.

    “Customers told us they did not have this level of information and therefore we’ve taken a consumer and category leadership role based on the data led, ATG created consumer insights,” Viccars continues.

    By looking at R&D and where the brand spends its budget, marketing is working in a more targeted way in channel selection. “ATG now has a consumer-driven, customer-focused mindset instead of an internal assumption based-approach and has completely redefined our culture,” Viccars adds.

    Customer-led thinking

    By working to deepen and enhance customer understanding, marketing has driven positive customer engagement outcomes through its new joined-up business-planning process.

    “We had a ‘shotgun’ range with customers that lacked a clear brand story as few products were ranged across multiple categories,” Viccars says. “ATG was internally orientated and operating in a reactionary fashion to our biggest customers.”

    Operating in functional silos with operational and commercial functions physically separated resulted in two businesses within one business. A wide range of activity from promotional sales activity to customer range reviews was also led by a siloed sales function. This left ATG in a declining position with diminished customer relevancy and consideration.

    “Our strategies and initiatives didn’t help grow our customers offer and categories, and we didn’t consider industry or macro trends,” Viccars says.

    The solution was to internally develop a joined-up business plan framework and embed this process and approach across the whole business thereby upskilling capability and a growth mindset across the team.

    “Externally, ATG used this approach with our strategic partners to reset our strategic intent to ensure our strategies and initiatives were aligned to drive mutual growth,” he explains.

    Range review presentations followed the joined-up business plan format and framework to ensure solutions married up to needs. The brand developed category segmentation using industry data to identify what products it would invest in long-term with innovation pipelines that allowed it to build a brand story.

    “The brand went from a transactional relationship to a strategic partnership with key customers,” Viccars says. “The net result has seen sales grow by multiple double-digit per cent with the top four customers over 12 months. We’re also partnering with customers on key initiatives based around the consumers’ needs.”

    Commercial acumen

    Making the shift from sales-led to consumer-led marketing business with a fewer, bigger, better strategy was need to reverse declining revenue and drive double-digit sales growth. The brand aims to gain significant consumer market share in hands tools over the next three years. 

    “We were trying to be everything to everyone - customer requests were transactional and lacked any strategy for ATG; however, customers were perceived as ‘always right’ if they were going to take the product,” Viccars notes.

    The plan was to move to a marketing-led organisation and consciously move away from 30 brands to focus on three primary brands and a ‘fewer, bigger, better strategy’. Viccars’ team conducted a rationalisation project across the business, rationalising 5500 products to 3000 profitable SKUs in stage one.

    It then drove a new way of working by moving from a bowtie to a diamond model. “In the diamond model, each function, such as finance, HR, sales, supply chain and customer service, is linked up to the customer creating multiple touch points and communication channels,” Viccars says.

    At a time when all metrics were red and declining and the sales-led approach to customer range reviews was a reactionary push approach, Viccars could see there was no forward direction, planning, or structure to its approach.

    This has meant restructuring the entire business, focus on moving from an internal warehouse to 3PL facility and outsourcing local manufacturing to its global supply partners. In addition, a complete program of overhauling the business to be driven by marketing saw the relocation of three office sites into one primary Sydney-based site, and a winning with winners’ customer approach.

    It resulted in a significant operating cost reduction in selling general and administration (SG&A), double-digit growth in revenue, and a dramatic improvement in stock on hand and delivery service to customers.

    “We also achieved cultural alignment and improvement based on a winning and growth mindset. Customers are also engaged within our fewer, bigger, better strategy and winning with winners,” Viccars says. “We improved team culture where we will be conducting a Great Place to Work survey with ambition to be in the top 100 places to work.”

    People and capability

    Through all of this Viccars has been firm on his leadership mantra. “I’m constantly challenging myself to stay resilient and have belief in my strategy, knowing that my actions and behaviours are key to inspiring the wider team,” he says.

    This was put to full use in the project to inspire category leadership and a growth mindset, from providing a product offer for the customer to a consumer-led solution enabled through the customer.

    “We had to consistently reinforce previous failures were a result of the same old approach,” he says. “Winning through the range reviews was high stakes for us as a business where the opportunity was to double the business in which we have traditionally under traded.

    “Despite initial resistance and failures, I was resilient in continually preventing the team slipping back into being product- or task-focused, rather than consumer-solution focused. It was about slowing down to speed up.”

    A key ingredient was pivoting existing meetings and encouraging cross-functional teams to inspire collaborative thinking through the range review process. Consumer insights and VOC reinforced the consumer was at the heart of everything ATG does, do and key US stakeholders were invited to support global positioning.

    “ATG is now seen as a strategic category thought leader with its approach,” Viccars says. “Key customer personnel are now reaching out separately to discuss consumer and category insights. It’s now become a blueprint and way of working across all key customers.”

    The new office layout has further nurtured a great culture, encouraging everyone to live the ATG core values via mural pieces throughout the office space. Meetings are focused on creating solutions cross-functionally to support the strategic vision and business plan objectives.

    “Our more diverse team members feel included, and the new office represents a symbol of the new way of working where our people feel valued and part of building a fun and thriving business,” Viccars concludes.


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