Berwin & Berwin managing director Simon Berwin on the changing face of supply, the importance of loyalty and partnerships and the impact of Brexit
I was in Athens on business recently. My host questioned which was more difficult: Brexit or everyday life in Greece, observing that our generation is lucky not to have actively lived through a war. Instead, we’ve worked through a period where many businesses have experienced significant growth. We both agreed all of the above could change at any time.
Berwin & Berwin is a fourth-generation family tailoring business. When I joined in 1973, it was making around 800 suits a week. Last week, that number exceeded 16,000. When I’m asked where that growth came from, I always say people and product. The prime drivers were the people in our teams, but also our partners and, dare I say, loyalty. Then there were some of the legendary buyers, such as Brian Hill, Simon Gash, James Perring, Lee Hamilton, John Jellineck and the evergreen Charles McKenna.
Nowadays, many people tell us that the words “partnership” and “loyalty” are outdated, and the only thing that matters is margin. This situation has been exaggerated by the outrageous Brexit situation which has, not surprisingly, killed sterling pound. Most tailoring is bought in dollars and, if the value has changed by 20%, then normal people would expect prices to change by 20%, too. But, of course, margin is king and nobody will play ball.
Let’s spell out what most people think about Brexit: Brexit, just like the general election, brings uncertainty, which is the one thing none of us needed. Let me put down on paper what many people are saying. Brexit happened because David Cameron, now happily in the Sunday Times Rich List, wanted to secure one more term in Number 10 and then read the situation wrongly before walking away.
As someone who owns businesses abroad and travels extensively, I am saying, please be under no illusions: we are now rated as second-class citizens, and many customers are seriously questioning whether they want to deal with UK companies. However hard we all think this process is going to be, it will in fact be 10 times harder. Thank you David, Boris and, sadly, Lord Wolfson.
When will buyers realise that special product works better than cheap product?
Suppliers – and I don’t just mean my business – are in the main disillusioned, losing money and, in many cases, losing team members to ways of life that are easier and more rewarding.
When will basic common sense and good manners return, and buyers realise that special product works better than cheap product, and investment in product leads to full-price sales plus happier people?
Our own retail business, which is mostly concessions in department stores, is up 12% in like-for-like sales for the year to date. When discussing this with our team, they echo my interpretation: it’s down to people and product. We have people in our departments who are focused and engaged through a lot of communication from our head office team.
Currently we have a situation where one of our shirt brands is flying off the shelves at £89, while another costs £30 less and is creating no interest … our fault for chasing margin by de-speccing the product and not listening to our designers.
Look at one of our country’s recent successes: Ted Baker – led by the charismatic, innovative Ray Kelvin, who is proud of his people and his product. It has certainly found the right balance between success, relationships and excitement.
Sometimes the old ways do work, so let’s focus on partnerships, people and product, rather than trying to beat suppliers into submission by archaic methods including bullying, threatening and withdrawing. This is a road to nowhere.
Of course it’s hard out there, but talking to each other – not by email – and working together has always been the way forward. That’s certainly the way my dad would do it.