The ability to spot a sell-out style helps Oliver Spencer’s commercial director build the perfect range.
What does your typical week involve?
Each week we look at weekly sales reports from our customers such as Liberty, Selfridges, Matchesfashion.com, Harvey Nichols and Mr Porter, as well as our four London stores. Retail is detail and I love looking at what’s selling, as well as styles which might need a bit more help. This could mean doing some shop floor rotation to promote the product, so it’s all about understanding the hotspots and coldspots on your shop floor.
Sometimes a style might outperform expectations, like our grandad collar shirt which for spring 15 has suddenly caught on really well. Having seen demand for this collar shape grow, it helps that we can react quickly and work with our Portuguese suppliers to turn around product in four weeks. In fact 99% of our production is sourced in Europe.
I couldn’t sit at a computer for days on end and I’m lucky enough to have a job that keeps me on the move. Often I’m on the ground looking at how to improve the store experience. I collaborate closely with our head of retail Tom Bodaly on everything from the first impression our customer gets when they walk in store to the sensory experience, to make sure we’re engaging with consumers. My favourite is our Calvert Avenue store in Shoreditch in October 2014 as I love the environment in east London and it’s the first store with our new concept, which we’re currently rolling out to our Lamb’s Conduit Street store.
Do you travel a lot in your role?
Absolutely. Oliver Spencer is an international brand. We have a network of distribution partners and agents in Japan, the US, Canada, Italy and Germany, as well as customers all over the world. We work with independent boutiques and department stores like Le Bon Marché in Paris, Unionmade in LA, Canvas in Malibu and Gentry in New York.
Part of my role is managing those relationships and it can only be done truly effectively face-to-face. It’s important to visit the city and experience the culture. Japan is my favourite market because they deliver a retail environment like nobody else. The service is so good that they make you feel like you’re the only person in the room. They always maintain direct eye contact and hand you over your package with two hands. Nowhere in the world comes close.
How do you go about identifying new market opportunities for Oliver Spencer?
I’ve been very fortunate in my career to spend lots of time in global markets and I’ve made many acquaintances and friends who work at fashion brands. They’re always the first people I go to to give me an understanding of a new market and the consumer, and how this relates to our brand. This forms the basis of how I identify an opportunity. Of course we’re constantly approached by department stores, agents and distributors. It’s crucial to have a clear brand strategy and awareness of your market positioning in order to determine if they’re the right partner.
Do you work on product development or marketing?
Yes, both. As commercial director I’m responsible for generating revenue through all our channels, whether this is our own retail, wholesale or online. This is dependent on the quality of our product and the way we present the brand to our audience. Oliver Spencer is only 12 years old, so it takes time to develop a brand personality. It’s all about maintaining a consistent message across each channel. My 12 years at Fred Perry were definitely a great education in how to define a brand and deliver a brand experience.
I also have to ensure we have a balanced collection in terms of pricing architecture, product mix and core product versus directional product. When I begin to construct the range plan I start by determining the entry and exit price. I feed in information from our trading reports to ensure we have enough options in each product category. So for example, for spring 15 we had five colour options for our grandad collar shirt (£89-£99), for spring 16 we have extended that to eight colours because the shirt performed so well.
Since I joined Oliver Spencer in April 2014 we’ve moved to four collections a year, which is commonplace at this level in the market. You have to think trans-seasonally. When a guy walks into our store on March 1 he probably isn’t ready to wear a T-shirt and short. He’ll be looking for a transitional piece like fine gauge knitwear he can layer.
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned?
Take your time, think it through from start to finish and then go back three steps from where you thought you should have started and begin again. The best laid plans are the ones that have taken time to come together, they last longer. I learned this from John Flynn, former Fred Perry managing director, now executive chairman.
Who in the fashion industry do you aspire to emulate?
I admire many people for what they’ve achieved but if I were to pick one it would have to be Rei Kawakubo, founder of Comme des Garçons. It is the definitive fashion brand that manages to evolve, engage and excite, yet stay the same. Her approach to fashion is unique.
If you didn’t work in fashion what other industry would you want to work in?
Politics. I have an innate sense of what’s fair and I love to debate. If I truly believe in something I never let it go. My colleagues and friends can attest to that. I could definitely see myself campaigning on an issue and maybe even appearing on BBC Question Time.
April 2014 - present Commercial director, Oliver Spencer
February 2009 - 2011 Sales director to managing director, Peter Werth
October 2008 - 2009 General manager Europe, Emu Australia
March 2007 - 2008 Brand management consultant
June 2006 - 2007 Trading director, Criminal
September 1994 - 2006 Retail development co-ordinator to sales director, Fred Perry
August 1991 - 1994 General manager, The Daniel James Partnership
April 1989 - 1991 Recruitment consultant
August 1987 - 1988 Concessions controller, Kriss Ltd
1984 - 1987 Retail manager, Mothercare