Meet Michaels’ astute new chef, Ashley Buchanan


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Ashley Buchanan is a data-driven leader who says he wouldn’t describe himself as very creative. “But I know what kind of brand and business we want to create,” he adds.

Buchanan became CEO of Michaels in 2020 after a dozen years at Walmart and Sam’s Club, before becoming executive vice president and chief U.S. e-commerce merchant for the nation’s largest company. There he learned a lot about operations, autonomy, team building, e-commerce and facilitating cross-functional collaboration. “You can see how a Fortune 1 business really works,” he says.

Buchanan stepped into his first role as CEO with a vision to take Michaels away from his reputation as a discount retailer. About 20 months after taking office, he stepped up the chain’s digital presence, pushing it towards the omnichannel trend enveloping the retail industry. He also re-marketed the brand to focus on inspiration and creative support, offering project ideas and courses to Michaels consumers, or “creators,” as the company calls them.

“Even the way we use our technology is radically different”

Ashley Buchanan CEO, The Michaels Cos.

The new approach better targets the broad audience of brand creatives, children and hobbyists to those who sell wholesale products. Buchanan’s other moves include reducing inventory, reducing seasonal and interior decorating, and moving his team to a new headquarters, staying in Irving but moving to a space that offers open layout and more natural lighting. “We’ve always been an Irving company,” he says.

While at Walmart, Michaels was the first executive recruiting call Buchanan seriously entertained, though many more came before him. Michaels stood out.

“I had known the company for so long. I grew up with it, ”Buchanan says. His father had taught him the stock market using the chain as an example. It was the first share Buchanan had ever purchased.

He never dreamed that he would grow up to lead the company through a merger with Apollo Global Management, a $ 3.3 billion deal that left the company private after an IPO in 2014 that left it. separate from private equity firms Bain Capital and Blackstone. Privatization will help support the company’s ongoing digital and physical transformation.

“It’s probably easier to do it in private than in public,” Buchanan says. “I think we can go faster in private.”

He does not hesitate to want to make Michaels, which has more than 1,200 stores and approximately 44,000 employees, a leader in the field of specialty retailers. He mentions the company’s 180-person in-house coding team, which he says gives it a speed-to-market advantage over its competitors.

“There’s no reason we can’t. Even the way we do our technology is drastically different, ”Buchanan says. “My goal here was to lay the foundation for the brick and mortar business; are we catching up from an e-commerce perspective; let’s start to get ahead of our closest and dearest competitors.

Prior to going private, Michaels reported fourth quarter 2020 net sales of $ 1.9 billion, up 12% from the same period in 2019. Comparable store sales were up 13%. The pandemic sparked a craft renaissance and helped accelerate Buchanan’s strategies.

“I think it would have been more difficult to detoxify this coupon / transactional relationship if it hadn’t been for COVID,” he says.

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