Menswear Buyer Article | November 2013


One of the unintended consequences of being in business for nearly 30 years is that, by definition, you become regarded as a source of wisdom. I’m not certain that there’s a link between longevity and talent, but there we go. The upshot of this is that I am a non exec on the board of a friend’s fledgling swimwear business, and an advisor to another old friend who is trying to launch a ladies resort wear line.

In both cases I’ve been fortunate enough to be on the journey from the start and it’s been thrilling to see them take their dreams from a few ideas to finished products. As loyal and long suffering readers of this column will attest, I’m never shy of expressing an opinion, and both these friends have endured me opine on numerous occasions. But that’s what I’m there for, frankly.

Sometimes they take my advice, and sometimes they don’t. No one likes a gloater so I always refrain from ‘I told you so’.

There are two common threads to my advice, to both businesses. The first is ‘focus’. Both started out with a plan and concept that could be expressed in a sentence, and both have strayed into other products, other demographics. I have urged them to keep to their original vision. There are only so many hours in the day, and with limited resources, they need to keep to their chosen path. Buyers and customers hate confusion.

The second point I pressed on them both was the need to have a retail space of their own. This is more urgent in the resort wear business, as his garments retail in the mid to high hundreds, and those ladies really want to see, touch and try on before they buy. He’s seriously struggling to establish as an online only offer.

For my other friend, his model is based more on wholesale, and his route to market involves trade shows like Pitti. However, he will soon need a showroom, and I would strongly urge him to take a retail space that could double as a showroom. By covering two businesses with one overhead, it makes good commercial sense.

The point in both cases, is that contrary to popular belief, retail is not dead. The web is a very crowded space, and the dominant players are becoming stronger, more established and more mature. Many smaller start ups in our sector have fallen by the wayside. Only those with a genuinely new idea, or an established high street presence, will succeed. Higher and higher marketing spends are needed to make a noise.

I was reminding myself of this as I met on site in my new shop in Blackheath, in South East London. Day three of building works and I’ve never seen more ancient wiring in my life. It’s a pretty shop, with original Victorian curved glass windows, tessellated floor and odd curves and crannies. It sure needs a lot of work.

Let’s hope I’m right about the high street. And remember, no one likes a gloater…

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