NAME: BEATRICE LAFON
POSITION: MANAGING DIRECTOR, HOMEBASE.CO.UK
WEB SITE: WWW.HOMEBASE.CO.UK
The head of the newly formed online division of DIY giant Homebase, Beatrice Lafon, is a newcomer to the net, having spent most of her career in strategic marketing positions for retailers like Kingfisher, Burton and Marks & Spencer. She explains how a passion for art and the search for online inspiration are driving homebase.co.uk's web strategy.
When did you become interested in the internet?
I started to buy things on the net a couple of years ago and I've been using it as a research tool for five or six years - mainly checking out potential clients and gathering market intelligence. Previous jobs have involved taking strategic decisions about the internet, asking questions like: 'Is the net right for this brand, and if so how do we make it work?' But homebase.co.uk is the first time I've really had to deal with the nuts and bolts of e-business.
How much time do you spend surfing each day?
Between 30 minutes and an hour at work, in short bursts - mostly for competitor tracking. Maybe two hours or more at the weekends, depending on what I'm looking for.
Which sites do you use each week?
I collect antiques and modern art, so I visit sites like la cimaise (http://perso.wanadoo.fr/cimaise) which is a forum for contemporary French artists, and okadirect.com, which offers designer furniture with an Asian twist. And Sotheby's and Christie's to keep up with what's coming to auction. When I joined homebase.co.uk I had to move from France, and I used relocation sites (like upmystreet.com) a lot. They are very useful for finding places where you might like to live.
Who are your advisers?
Sapient has been our development partner right from the start, helping us a lot with site design. But its biggest contribution has been in legacy integration. Grafting new e-business packages onto Homebase's accounting, sales and stock control systems was one of the most complex things we have done.
What is your company's web strategy?
We put a lot of effort into content - we don't want to be just another online catalogue. As a customer I look for sites that inspire me, and then I'll buy from them. That's what we're trying to do with homebase.co.uk. If you give people ideas and make sure they enjoy their visit, some of them will become your customers, and even the ones that don't will remember your site. And we are exploiting our bricks-and-mortar presence via in-store promotions and direct mail to existing customers.
So far we've spent about pounds 10 million, and in the new year the entire site will be reviewed in terms of its functionality and interactivity. It's got to be absolutely right by Easter, the DIY trade's equivalent of Christmas.
We did a lot of market research to find out what people want and I think we're giving it to them.
What are the most significant changes the internet will bring about?
The vision I have is of the net as a personal choice manager - all the answers will be there at your fingertips. It will be like a new best friend, but we're not there yet. That won't happen until broadband access and more intuitive search engines become commonplace.