A Day In The Life of A Group Account Director

At Quantum4, we offer strategic design partnerships to some of the world’s leading brands and retailers. Whether it is a brand refresh, new product launch or managing a complex tender programme, we work to deliver the best value for your company. From invention, design and prototype all the way through installation of the display equipment, our specialist team enables us to create a global reach. Yet, this wouldn’t be possible without our local team. 

We have created our ‘A Day in the Life’ series to provide an insight on how our team provides global results. 
Today, we take a look into a day in the life of our Group Account Director, Nic Chater.

1. What does a typical day at Quantum 4 entail?

There are four quite distinct aspects to my role: alongside working with established clients, I drive future business development, marketing activities, and lead the ongoing development of our Quantum Zero sustainable design methodology. I love the variety and overlap between each area, and the level of insight, involvement and knowledge it brings. It also means being careful of how quickly the days disappear. Someone I once worked with used to say “don’t let perfection get in the way of good-enough” but I don’t think that’s a mantra I’ll ever be comfortable with. 

My working day begins around 7am. It’s a great time to catch up with clients in different time zones and to read about what’s going on in our world of brands and retailers, to formulate ideas about who we should be talking with. Every few days I’ll start around 4am to get into something I need to concentrate on. It’s the best time of day and a good use of the hours we’d normally spend catching early flights. 

One of the best habits to continue from the past work-from-home year is our 9am daily team call. We chat through our respective projects, suggest alternative ideas, discuss the broader business, and compare notes for what everyone’s watching on Netflix or Prime of course! The result is the most closely knit frontline group I’ve ever worked with, a true team which benefits both our clients and us. 

Between scheduled calls, project meetings and reacting to client needs, I block time out to focus on the things I want to achieve; future business development, client pitches, social media content, research and working with the rest of the leadership team to constantly evolve our methods and overall business offer. 

Having started early I try to finish by 6pm to walk the dog for an hour, it’s the only time of the waking day I won’t have the phone with me. Then, if I’ve not thought of something else that ‘needs’ doing I’ll put in a Waterower session, reminding myself that one day we’ll live somewhere next to water and be able to row for real every day! 

2. How did you get into retail design?

After over 30 years in the industry, I still don’t think I’ve met one person who said this is what they planned to get into. Many people don’t realise our design niche even exists until you get into it. Most of my creative contemporaries went off to do design foundation courses and then on to universities. But I was lucky enough to meet Carl Reilly, one of the founders of the UK point-of-purchase scene, who offered me a hands-on training.  

So, aged 18, I began learning how to visualise with magic markers, produce detailed technical drawings by hand (scratching out many Rotring errors with a scalpel), manually paste-up artwork (I can smell the Cow Gum now) and understand the balance between the art and science of typography through sheet after sheet of Letraset (the space around the letters is as important as the letters themselves). 

Outside the studio the constant education continued on the shop-floors of manufacturers – from injection moulding and vacuum formed plastics, to timber and metal fabrication, to print and illumination. 

From almost day one I was given direct contact with senior clients, learning how to really listen and the art of extracting a brief.  

Carl remains the most talented and charismatic all-rounder I’ve met in this industry and I owe him so much for his knowledge, trust, and unwavering patience in allowing me to learn from making (many) mistakes. 

When that business was sold to one of the industry’s global giants my interest evolved from point-of-purchase displays to complete shop-in-shop and flagship stores. It was then I realised just how much I’d learnt and how compelling that depth of knowledge is in front of clients. I switched my focus to become full-time client-facing and that’s been the direction ever since.

3. How are you, and Quantum 4 challenging the retail design industry?

We do a lot of things differently here but there were two outstanding attractions in joining Quantum4: 

First of all, we challenge established traditional industry practices. We don’t design to accommodate the limitations of a particular manufacturing process or factory. We work transparently, collaborating with clients and their preferred partners, focusing entirely on developing the very best commercial solution for the brief. Once the solution is tested and refined, we make all information available in the form of deeply detailed specification packs which give our clients everything needed to go out for tender and implementation, confident they’ve got the level of detail required to accurately compare prices, select the best partners, and manage manufacture and rollout. We support the process to whatever stage is needed, either collaborating with our clients’ own preferred manufacturers, supplementing the supply chain with our own global network of experts, or delivering the entire programme ourselves. Every client and project needs a different approach so we flex to fit whatever’s needed. 

Secondly, our robust and credible approach to designing for sustainability. After years of rumbling around, sustainability has definitely arrived high on the agenda of responsible brands and retailers. Our industry has seized on this with a lot of companies suddenly marketing a sustainability angle. What makes Quantum4 different is that sustainability isn’t a new ‘trend’ here. For over 15 years we’ve been designing for sustainability and have developed what has become Quantum Zero, our unique method for quantifying and driving improvement in the sustainability of retail display and spaces. We work with BREEAM and draw only on their global materials database, meaning everything we do can be tracked back to a common, globally-recognised source which is aligned with assessment of the buildings in which much of our work resides. 

4. From your perspective, what are the key industry trends you expect to see in retail this year?   

Adapting to the constant change of the past year forced brands and retailers to accelerate years of operational evolution into a matter of weeks. As consumers we had no real choice but to shop more digitally than ever before and, in the earliest days, experienced the fragility of some aspects of the ecommerce infrastructure. Those initial glitches were quickly overcome by simple measures; broadening the online offer, redeploying existing resources, creating more delivery options etc.  

Now physical retail has reopened, we have even more choice. Do we continue with the mundane comfort of shopping from the sofa, do we venture out but stay within our newly discovered local scene, or do we return to city centres and malls? 

Despite footfall being over 25% down on pre-pandemic levels, I don’t think our deepened comfort with ecommerce should threaten physical retail. Quite the opposite in fact, it highlights where physical spaces appeal to our social psychology and senses in ways that digital can’t. All that online shopping has generated heaps of powerful data in a remarkably compressed timeframe. That’s a gift which must be seized and applied to create the personalised experiences that successful physical stores must now deliver. 

Yes, I’m one of the believers, that brands and retailers will prosper when they seamlessly incorporate the best learnings of digital and physical into singular hybrid models. 

5. What one headline about the retail industry would you like to see this year? 

“Post pandemic drives retail renaissance”