Nick Vinckier lives and works in the United Arab Emirates since 2018. As Head of Corporate Innovation at Chalhoub Group, he researches & develops new competitive advantages and revenue streams for luxury fashion & beauty brands in the Middle East. More concretely, he recently launched the Group’s first NFT collection, circular business models, and subscription programs. Nick took the liberty to sit down for an interview with us ahead of Experiment Summit 2023, where he will share how Chalhoub Group is shaping the market through innovation, and what you can take away from them for your own business, large or small.
It is only recently that he’s been officially recognized as one of the global #LinkedInTopVoices by LinkedIn.
As a major player in the Middle East, how do you identify new trends or opportunities for innovative products, services, or technologies?
We pay attention to the trends around us, and we stay on top of what’s happening in our market. We do this in order to make sure that we’re up-to-date with what’s happening. This goes for trends in luxury retail, but also for bigger trends. We look at trends from the outside in, but we also look at them from the inside out by checking our sales data and customer feedback. If, for example, we notice that we sell less tableware online than in-store, then it makes sense for us to investigate why this is the case and make any necessary adjustments. Maybe it’s the visualization of the products, then we go in and make changes. Experiments like that can pay large dividends in the long run.
You’re focusing more and more on web3. What does the Metaverse have to offer to luxury fashion and retail?
Web3 is very hot to post about, but web3 is incredibly important for luxury because the tech offers a bunch of new opportunities for storytelling. NFTs for example are new ways to build communities, to appeal to new audiences. They also offer increased authentication and traceability, which means counterfeits are easy to keep out. In a time when secondhand is booming hard with a big grey market, blockchain can relieve a lot of pain. We can trace that secondhand activity volume and act on it.
For the community aspect, you can create an experience around your brand in a totally different way. You can get much closer to your community and build a relationship with them based on mutual trust. Usually, it’s expected from consumers to be loyal to a brand, but not vice versa. In blockchain technology, things are different—the relationship is not one-directional but two-directional.
Learn how marketers can experiment & leverage communities in web3.
How do you assess the risks associated with introducing new innovations? Do you use experimentation to do that?
We don’t look at it as a risk, but as an investment, and the return we can get on it. There are no real risks with innovation unless you do really irresponsible things. How do we approach that?
We’re not here to sell you a dream, but the best-case scenario. In corporate innovation, we start with a proof of concept, which costs a couple of thousand dollars. In case the cost is higher, the technology or business model should already be battle-tested, something that works on the market. If it’s a lower amount, it might be less battle-tested. We also look to collaborate with startups, as partners to work with. That’s how we mitigate that risk.
There’s also our CoLab, which is our customer research lab. It’s an environment that allows us to engage with the customer early on. There we can engage very easily with consumers. For example, for a jewelry brand of ours, we looked at whether a subscription was better or rental. The CoLab allowed us to determine that the subscription was not worth it, but rental was. Then we ask ourselves, what kind of rental? From there we go and validate rental models to try and get to a service that appeals to the consumer. By utilizing our CoLab from early on, we mitigate risk as well.
Colab has been around for four years now. It’s a great tool for customer-centricity, not only innovation-wise but also just for questioning products and services.
How do you inspire and motivate teams to pursue new ideas and take risks?
It starts with being very much inspired yourself. You have to constantly seek that inspiration yourself, and it doesn’t happen in your office. You have to be present in stores, warehouses, etc… Travelling is great, but it doesn’t have to be work-related. Ideas sometimes come better when I’m wakeboarding or on vacation. That’s what I find is not being done enough in corporates. We need to be more creative than we are supposed to be.
At Chalhoub we built our innovation vision on 4 pillars
- We discover: Look for opportunities, inspire yourself
- We connect: with startups and other companies
- We inspire: Do presentations internally, look and share stuff on LinkedIn, and forward interesting articles and other content to each other.
- We create: You can talk as much as you want, you have to create as well. With 15.000 people we need to market ideas internally and need to stay in communication as much as possible. But taking action is definitely as important.
We also have internal awards. There are the Excellence Awards and then there are the GOAT (Greatest of All Time) awards. Both award innovation, which motivates us all.
Then there are also a lot of things that are implemented structurally. There are certain KPI’s for CxOs with a bonus system, but also internally for their workforces. These different workforces also have a shared budget system, that can only be used for innovation. If teams find something to execute together for example, they can use that shared budget to drive that innovation effort.
You talked in another podcast about the Yalla mentality. Can you tell us what it stands for?
If you do business in the Middle East you will see that there is a different mindset. If you want to do innovation in Europe you will get 100 reasons why it would not succeed. They have a very pragmatic vision which creates a lot of opposition. They think about the problems instead of the opportunities.
Yalla Mentality is the following. For example, when we see H&M or Gucci do certain things, we ask ourselves, “isn’t that an idea?”. “Sure”! Then we go and make a business case, and if the risk is limited, we simply do it. It’s much easier. We simply look at the possible loss. Is it 20.000$? No worries, just go and execute. It’s a very different mentality, much more positive and daring. It’s a constant feeling of what we are doing is not enough, what’s next, and how can we get better faster. It’s very ambitious, which is probably attributed to the region we live in.
Corporates must navigate the world of negativity in a more subtle way. They should set up multiple things and do them in small steps, preparing well for the journey. Once committed, it is easy to begin; stopping, however, is hard to do. It’s the art of the start. Simply ask what is the smallest thing we can commit to and then start working on it, learning something new along the way.
Cosmos Collective supports learning with a free virtual event. At the Experiment Summit 2023, Nick Vinckier will tell you more on “Corporate innovation: The Chalhoub Group way”.
Claim your free ticket here.