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How the Michaels CEO is Working to Take the Brand From “Hard to Love” to “An Ecosystem of Arts and Crafts”

Since he became CEO of The Michaels Companies, Inc. 18 months ago, Ashley Buchanan has moved the company’s headquarters, seen it through privatization, navigated the COVID-19 pandemic and tried to set the brand on a new path.

Buchanan said he has a four-pillar strategy to heal what he called “self-inflicted wounds” that had put the company on a downward trajectory. Between merchandise, branding and digital capabilities, the CEO said the arts and crafts retailer needed a lot of simple fixes implemented to begin to turn a new leaf.

“I had a general hypothesis coming into the job. And my general synopsis of it was (Michaels) was a loved brand, the customers loved it, but we made it really hard for them to love it,” Buchanan said. “And most of the problems that I saw were self-inflicted…in the first 30 days, like, yeah, the hypothesis was about right.”

Through its growth strategy, despite the COVID-19 pandemic shaking the retail world, Michaels saw overall growth in 2020 on its top and bottom line.

Buchanan was appointed to lead Michaels in January 2020, and officially took the reins April 1 after a three-month transition. Before Michaels, he served 13 years through various roles at Walmart, most recently as chief merchant for the company’s U.S. e-commerce unit. Though the U.S. outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic coincided with the start of his tenure, he said the core of the strategy he developed when he took the role has remained the same — improving the customer experience.

“I think the entire company is customer-focused, customer-obsessed, as opposed to metrically-obsessed,” Buchanan said. “Because if you do one, the second follows. If you’re only metric-obsessed, sometimes you cut out the customer.”

The first pillar of his plan: fix the foundation of the company, including merchandise, supply chain and pricing. The CEO said while there were about 70 different types of sticker letters, there wasn’t rainbow glitter (which his daughter had pointed out to him). There wasn’t enough labor to keep up with the amount of product being pushed into stores and the pricing of various items was illogical and disconnected.

The second pillar was to create an omnichannel retailer and bulk up the company’s technology presence. Buchanan said when he arrived at Michaels, the mobile application was basically a digital version of a print ad with some coupons, unable to even facilitate customer purchases.

Buchanan described the third pillar as a way to change the brand from transactional — focusing on clearance and coupons — into what he thought an arts and crafts retailer should be: creative and inspirational.

“We want to be an ecosystem of arts and crafts,” Buchanan said, on the fourth pillar. “You want a community of makers helping each other out. Through the Michaels platform, you want to incorporate digital and physical together.”

The company is adding online craft classes and ideas for its community.

On top of his four-pillar strategy, Buchanan has other initiatives to increase the company’s efficiency and customer experience.

Buchanan came from the e-commerce world at Walmart and laid out what he called an 18-month tech roadmap. Over the years, Buchanan said Michaels had “cobbled together” expensive third-party contracts with technology companies that weren’t adding value. Since he took the reins, the company has left many of those, and hired 180 programmers in-house.

Read the full story at Dallas Business Journal.