Lifestyle brand Joules is celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2019. Founder Tom Joule and CEO Colin Porter explain to Drapers why customer closeness is vital and share where the brand is heading next.
Joules, a lifestyle brand built on signature floral prints and a contemporary countryside aesthetic, is celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2019.
“For me, it wasn’t about how long we’ve been doing it,” founder Tom Joule tells Drapers, during a visit to the brand’s head office in Market Harborough, Leicestershire. “That’s why we called our celebrations 30 years of making memories. For me it is about 30 years of our relationship with the customer.”
Although the celebrations have revolved around the consumer – there is a year-long series of contests and consumer interactions such as a monthly photo competition where entrants could win holidays and campervans – the business itself certainly still has a lot to celebrate. In a tough retail climate, Joules has consistently issued robust results.
In its most recent results, for the year to 26 May 2019, group revenue soared by 17.2% to £218m and underlying profit before tax rose by 19.4% to £15.5m.
Current Joules CEO Colin Porter is set to depart the business in early 2020, after eight years at the business and four years at the helm. New CEO Nick Jones, managing director of Asda’s George, is joining before the end of 2019.
As Joules moves forward into a new era, Porter and Joule have ambitious plans for the future and are gearing the business to capitalise on a rapidly evolving retail landscape. They say close connection with its customer, a willingness to explore new categories and an omnichannel approach to retail are the pillars of its growth.
From the Market Harborough headquarters, which are fittingly surrounded by plush green meadows filled with grazing cows, Joules has built a strong business both in the UK and internationally.
The UK is still the dominant market for the brand, but international has been a fast-growing area and looks set to expand further.
Currently sitting at 16% of the total, Porter notes that international sales are well on the way to growing to 20%, and beyond: “We don’t see why in five or 10 years it couldn’t be 50% of the business.”
For now, Germany and the US are the two main focuses. Last year the brand began working with US department store Nordstrom in store and online, and Porter and Joule note that the brand’s strategy with the retailer could eventually become the norm throughout the business.
Joules operates a drop-ship model with Nordstrom for online sales, and fulfilling orders via its own logistics providers, as opposed to the traditional concession model where the order is shipped by the retailer.
“It allows the retailer to be broader in terms of their [brand] offer and it allows the brand to put more in front of the customer,” explains Porter. “We’re tapping into a different customer database and customer that would otherwise have taken much longer and been much harder to get.”
You can’t tell the customer where they can and can’t shop
Porter and Joule say Joules is open to operating several new retail models with its stockists. In the UK, it is shifting to a concessions-based approach with big-name stockists including John Lewis, although this could change.
“I could see in the future that [the concessions model] turning into something like a drop-ship model,” says Joule. “We’re up for anything. It’s difficult to keep investing to support all of this – but what we realised very early on is that you can’t tell the customer where they can and can’t shop. You have to follow what the customer wants.”
“I don’t think there is such a thing as a traditional wholesale model now. You have to be more nimble,” he continues. “Going forward, I think we’ll do less sampling and we’ll be closer to market. As we move more to a concessions model, it’ll be more and more about what’s in our inventory rather than what the retailer has picked.”
The brand operates a “Total Retail” approach, which describes its multichannel strategy across stores, wholesale and digital touchpoints.
“The retailer has shown that it is capable of adapting its business in what is a constantly evolving retail market,” says Samantha Dover, senior retail analyst at Mintel. “Joules, unlike many of its competitors, recognises how valuable its stores are to both its online offer and overall customer experience. The retailer is working hard to understand the journey its customers take when making a purchase and how different retail channels are intrinsically linked.”
Although the strategy is strong, Anusha Couttigane, principal fashion analyst at Kantar, notes that Joules must remain alert to market shifts: “Joules is still underexposed in some of the newer channels that appeal to younger audiences, such as social commerce. To continue its growth trajectory, Joules needs to ensure it is positioned in the right channels and it must maintain the rigour of the direct-to-consumer approach it started out with.”
Beyond its retail strategy, product extension helped Joules to drive growth and remains a focus. New categories include a sofa collection with DFS, which has been available since 2017, and a range of dog accessories – beds, leads and collars – which launched in July.
Joules autumn 19
“We will most definitely look to do more of these,” says Porter. “It is always very controlled in terms of who is the right partner and what is the right distribution in the marketplace.
“Expanding into home, outdoor and other lifestyle products has been tackled in a really commercial way,” adds Emily Gordon-Smith, director of consumer product at trends intelligence company Stylus. “It is smart in not being over-prescriptive in its handwriting, which has allowed Joules to flourish cross-category and to appeal to whole families.”
It is not just categories that are expanding. On the short drive from Market Harborough station to Joules’ headquarters, the next stage of the business’s growth is taking shape – quite literally – as construction of a new head office is well under way.
Currently, Joules’ teams are split across five buildings on an adjacent site, but this new 600,000 sq ft building will consolidate 550 staff under the same roof. The excitement over the new location – and the addition of a staff cafe – from the Joules team is palpable. The new office set to open in 2020.
Fuelled by its focus on product, willingness to invest in new retail strategies and a strong brand identity, Joules is preparing for its future. It will need to stick to these strong foundations and remain responsive to market developments and new channels to ensure its growth for the next 30 years.
As it grows, Joule is determined to stay true to his label’s roots: “The brand has grown in ways I never imagined it would. “But those things that were important at the beginning are still important now. To bring a bit of joy, happiness, colour to the shires.”