Henleys is a relative baby on the Manchester fashion scene compared with the likes of Umbro and Aertex, having entered the market in 1996. But its northern roots are key to the success of the young fashion brand and its standalone stores, particularly its links to football.
“[Ex-Manchester United and now Manchester City player] Carlos Tevez spent a small fortune in our store when he was first signed for United and Rio Ferdinand shops with us too,” says sales director Nick Whittle.
Whittle adds that - among other things - it’s Henleys’ use of colour that gives the brand its point of difference. “In Manchester, the lads want to stand out.”
But its Henleys’ short-order concept that gives the brand its edge, with 70% of the business working in this way.
“Fashion moves so quickly that we saw a gap in the market for [a short order-focused business]. We haven’t even started spring 11,” Whittle laughs, demonstrating just how close to the season and to trends the brand operates.
Henleys is not the only brand to offer short-order product but Whittle insists this remains its selling point, and refuses to share his secrets for success. “It’s all down to passion,” he says. “And long hours. We source in the Far East and in Europe.”
In 2007, Henleys opened its first standalone store in Manchester, which Whittle says helped with the brand’s product development, allowing it to move beyond its shirting heritage to a lifestyle brand. But he is determined not to damage Henleys’ relationships with its stockists: “In fact, when we open a store, our stockists’ sales in that area go up.
“We also offer exclusive pieces to our indie stockists that we don’t give to other stockists like Bank and Republic [to help them offer a point of difference].”
Whittle is confident about the future of independents. “Our indie business is still massive and I think indies are getting stronger and stronger. But we’re also seeing growth from our own stores and online business,” he says. Red or blue? Red.
Nick Whittle is sales director of young fashion brand and retailer Henleys