Working at Vans: Hilary Stockalper on a career in e-commerce and digital
19. Apr. 2021
Can you tell me a bit about yourself, your background, and how you came to work at VF? Did you always want to work in fashion?
After I graduated from University, I worked full-time in San Diego, California, in an industry outside of fashion. When my partner had the opportunity to move to Switzerland and asked if I wanted to join, I leaped. Shortly after arriving, I secured a job at a pharmaceutical company, and it didn’t take long for me to realize that it was not an industry I was passionate about. Luckily, I had a nice view of the VF EMEA HQs from my office window. I started researching job openings and was able to secure an interview. The timing was perfect as they were looking to grow The North Face’s website and were currently only trading in two markets – both in English. The rest is history.
What is it like to work at Vans / VF - what makes it so special as you have been with the company for 10 years?
VF is a company I am proud to be part of. I have had the opportunity to grow my career in multiple roles and areas in e-commerce in two global brands, The North Face and Vans. I have been at Vans for the majority of my career at VF and the brand’s values and the people that I work with every day make it an incredible place to work. Everyone is passionate about their jobs, kind and collaborative, and I have had the opportunity to work with an incredibly diverse group of individuals.
You are currently head of the e-commerce trading department at Vans - can you tell me more about your role?
My role is to oversee the trading, digital merchandising, and product content (including product data and translations) online to ensure that we reach our revenue, net sales, and conversion rate targets. My team also owns the Vans Customs business, an online experience that allows our customers to create and build their own Vans shoes online, which is the foundation and deeply connected to Vans DNA.
What does your typical working day look like?
There is never a typical day in terms of what I do. Having variety is essential for me as no day is a repetition of the previous. One day I can be working on the financial plan with our finance team, and the next day, strategizing on how we can grow our Customs business. I can collaborate with multiple departments within Vans, from creative teams to supply chain, as well as my counterparts across the other brands in VF's vast portfolio. Having these relationships is critical for the success of the role and e-commerce and keeps every day engaging.
What do you like most about your job?
Digital and e-commerce are constantly evolving and changing, therefore it is also at the center of VF’s transformation journey and strategy. Even if the fundamental objectives remain consistent over time (for example, revenue growth, improve conversion, etc.), the path to achieving these are constantly evolving as technology advances. If you look at what digital merchandising and category sorting was 5-10 years ago vs. the technologies that support it today, it's a different way to manage the business. We can use AI technology and actual customer behavior and preferences to drive our decision-making. As an analytical thinker, I enjoy learning new technologies and evaluating the results of our actions to keep improving the business.
How has your role adapted during the pandemic?
The pandemic has made digital businesses even more crucial and has required us to adapt our focus, efforts, and the pace at which we work. Having a hyper-focus on our digital commerce has allowed us opportunities to accelerate. We have also been able to advance our omnichannel capabilities to ensure we have the right products in the right channel based on what is going on in the particular market to serve our consumers the best.
With a brand as global as Vans, how are you still able to be creative? Can you do European-specific projects and capsules?
Yes, and this is valued among my team and colleagues. While we have global stories and a strong brand, each region can adapt creativity, stories, and trading to fit their markets. In my team, we create merchandising stories online that are EMEA relevant, localized calendars for our larger markets for commercial moments, photoshoot our products in EMEA to ensure we have the correct fit and style of our European consumers, and so forth. Having the foundation of solid brand guidelines and understanding our consumers allows each department to contribute their creative vision into their role.
There is obviously a big push in fashion for e-commerce and digital - how are Vans and VF looking to develop this in the coming years?
There has been a big focus on investing in e-commerce and digital across all brands in VF’s portfolio. At Vans, we’re focused on digital and e-commerce globally. Vans EMEA is interested in improving the Direct-to-Consumer experience across all touchpoints, whether it is with our e-commerce platform, marketplace accounts, or how we can bring more digital to our stores. We must be able to provide the products that the customer expects in the channel that they desire.
You’ve held various roles in VF - what is it about e-commerce and digital that appeals to you?
I am a very analytical person. When working in e-commerce, almost everything we do is trackable and analysed to understand if there is a positive or negative effect of the action taken. Ideally, we can monitor any part of the customer journey (website, delivery, customer service) to understand where to make improvements. In my current role, it is about categories, images, products, landing pages, whereas, in previous roles, it could be about the checkout, lead-time for shipments, or new enhancements on the site. Regardless of the area in e-commerce, it is possible to analyze how the changes implemented directly impact the customer experience.
Do you have any tips for people looking to start a career in digital? And who might be interested in working at Vans?
There are many types of roles and careers in digital, so the opportunities are vast. I have noticed that there’re people that desire to get in digital because it is currently a big focus for many organizations, but for me, this is not enough. Have something that connects you to digital, interests you, and drives you. This will be important for the hiring manager to see. To work at Vans, you need to be your authentic self, whatever that is. One of the best things about working at Vans is that there’s no such thing as a typical Vans employee. Of course, we all understand and connect with the brand, but at the core, the people that I work with are authentic and driven. Also, you must be willing to have some fun.
When you recruit into your team - what are the main skills you look for in candidates?
It depends on the level and type of the open position. Some skills are mandatory for each role, but beyond these, at VF is there is not a one-fits-all candidate. Vans and VF believe in the importance of inclusivity and diversity, and this is very important when recruiting a candidate into my team. As a team and brand, when there are diverse people and backgrounds in a group, we are better equipped to challenge processes, the way we work, and ideas if we come from diverse experiences and ways of thinking. When looking at the skills of a candidate, soft skills are just as important and can contribute more to success than the hard skills a person may have.
What is the most important skill to have, in your opinion, to have a long-lasting and successful career?
I would say the most important skill you can have is adaptability. I believe most people will not have a linear career path, even though that is what most people strive for. People who are willing to be open to new projects and ways of working, taking on a different type of role to round out their skillset, and think about how innovation can change the way they work, will be open and ready for the next step in their career. When I first started in e-commerce, I never imagined I would take on a wide variety of roles, but it has allowed me to understand the business and think about how decisions can impact every area. I am grateful that the opportunity to step into new areas within e-commerce was available to me as it will continue to be fundamental for my long-term career growth.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
The best advice I have ever received was not to be afraid of being uncomfortable. When you are uncomfortable in a new role, new project, or with people you manage, it allows you to stretch yourself and grow personally and professionally.