March 2011 was my first interview with someone working for Holt Renfrew. When I asked for a professional with years of experience for my Behind the Scenes column, the first name put forward was Christopher Novak. He had a little less time in the industry than normal for this column, but at the interview it was clear his story was a perfect fit. Charming, intelligent, knowledgeable and willing to share what it takes to succeed, it was also clear he loved what he did and the company he worked for. I have been told he has since been promoted. His LinkedIn profile now lists him as "Director of Sales Holt Renfrew Bloor Street." but I have not confirmed this is correct. Welcome to the journey of a professional in the retail section industry of the fashion industry.
|Image by Wayne Mah Photography
Two early influences shaped Christopher Novak's life. First was the discovery of Jeanne Beker and FashionTelevision while flipping channels. Fascinated, it became a weekend staple in his childhood and a source of inspiration. The second was a trip with his aunt to see a production of Les Miserables where he fell in love with theatre. The path that took him from those early moments to his his current position as Divisional Sales Manager for Cosmetics and Fragrances at Holt Renfrew Vancouver has taken him around the world. This is his dream job and he makes no bones about it – he is here to stay.
Despite his love for fashion and theatre, Novak bowed to family pressure and enrolled in Pre-Commerce at university. It was a first year theatre course he took for fun, however, that caught his attention. He quickly became involved in creating costuming and ended up being asked to take charge of the wardrobe for an entire play – Sex and Perversity by David Mamet. Then a chance meeting with a model scout changed his direction. He was signed by Armstrong Men in Toronto and headed off to Milan. He remembers, “I started out wanting to be in front of the camera and found myself more comfortable behind it. There is a lot of pressure and you have to have a thick skin. You realize you're not as special as you think when you go to a casting and there are a hundred guys who look exactly like you.”
Novak had a side job to help pay the bills when he was in Toronto – working at The Gap. One day they asked if he would like to try the position of Assistant Manager and he thought, “Sure, I can do this. I would organize it differently , I would speak to the staff differently and I would motivate them differently.” His kinetic energy, love of people, an innate talent for merchandising and constant drive for perfection led him quickly up the ranks. By the age of 24 he was living in Vancouver and managing the multimillion dollar Gap and Gap Kids Park Royal with a staff of 120 and 9 managers. Then he burned out. It was back to Winnipeg where he took some time off and finished his degree in Drama and English.
On graduation he returned to Vancouver and again entered the retail industry. To challenge himself, Novak chose to work in a different retail market. Although successful, he learned to be the best you can be, you need to have the right match between the product and your talents. A friend suggested he try cosmetics. After finishing one basic fundamentals course at BlancheMacdonald, he applied to be a counter make-up artist at Holt Renfrew and they took a chance on him. True to form, he brought all his talent, experience and energy to the position and was eventually promoted to divisional manager. “Here I am and I love it. My mind is constantly going, trying to figure out the problems, how to promote a product and how to get the right people. To me that's just really fun.”
A typical day starts with a short motivational meeting with his staff and then he walks the floor to check in with everyone. Novak also tries to meet individually with every one of his staff (80 in total) at least once a month. Working closely with the brand representatives and head office to communicate accurate information on any changes in the store's consumer base is also important. When a new company comes in to set up their counter, he helps them look at ways to represent their brand while blending into Holt Renfrew's. Fortunately Novak loves working with people. Hardest for him is when he has to let someone go. “I want everyone to be their best, but sometimes it's not a fit, sometimes it doesn't work. I believe in treating everyone with respect and sometimes that means telling them what you see. Even if they don't want to hear it, they need to hear it.” What is the best part of working at Holt Renfrew? “Regardless of where you work in this company, your opinion is taken. People listen. There is respect.”
The biggest changes Novak has seen in the retail industry is the advent of social media. “It's not just about happens in the store. E-Commerce is a game changer, increased competition is a game changer and we have a really well-traveled clientele, so we have to be on our toes. It's the total customer experience." As someone who interviews, he also had some advice to offer for those hoping to work in the industry. “Today matters. The job you're in right now is the vehicle you're driving, drive it the best way you know how. Be wow every day and do 110%. Someone will recognize it and that will get you your next job.”
Christopher Novak continues to look for new challenges. He tries to figure out what needs to be dealt with and take care of it before his boss even notices. While there are still many things to be accomplished in his current position, he is looking forward to the new challenges to be found at Holt Renfrew for years to come.
Holt RenfrewVancouver is located at the corner of Granville and Dunsmuir Streets in the heart of downtown Vancouver. For more information please visit their website at www.holtrenfrew.com