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Kevin Stone

In spite of difficulties in the menswear sector, the BMB Group is ramping up its branded operation under sales and marketing director Kevin Stone, who has plenty up his sleeve for the coming months.

Kevin Stone, sales and marketing director at menswear supplier BMB Group, is “ready for battle” as the sector slips further into recession. Stone oversees a portfolio of six brands including Melka, Baracuta, Gibson London, 1…Like No Other, Pierre Cardin and Ben Sherman suiting, which BMB was granted the licence for earlier this year.

Branded menswear is an area that most suppliers would shy away from given the current climate but Stone, who joined BMB in 2006, says that, given the spread of his labels, he is optimistic about the future.

“We’ve got a great portfolio of brands and that means if one branded business is slowing down we have other brands and markets to offset that. That is one of our strengths in this climate. Even though each brand has its own range and profit and loss account, they are all parts of a bigger sum,” he says.

BMB’s branded business has trebled in size in the past three years and is now worth 35 million, thanks in part to Stone’s reluctance for brand overlap. He says there are still gaps in the portfolio which could mean acquisitions are planned as the branded market heads into further turmoil in 2009.

“As we build our brand portfolio, we want to cover the whole industry. There are still gaps in what we do – we have no denim, sports or T-shirt brands and a lot of our focus is on the 35-plus age group.”

He adds: “Menswear has been having a tough time for more than a year. But I think menswear retailers will come out of the recession faster and there will be a realigning of the market. In harder times you learn a lot more about your brands and we are already making changes to our business model.”

BMB’s brands are split into formal and casualwear and Stone says it is a deliberate strategy not to buy or licence from labels that directly compete with the existing portfolio.
Suiting, which is the parent company’s core strength, has been strengthened with the acquisition of the Ben Sherman suiting licence, which was won away from BMB’s key competitor Berwin & Berwin this year.

BMB will supply Ben Sherman tailoring from June 2009 and it will be positioned more upmarket to support Ben Sherman’s global positioning, which has risen to a more premium level in the past 18 months. Retail prices are set to be about 200 for a suit.

Stone, who worked for Ben Sherman as UK sales director from 2000 to 2003, says: “This is an exciting project for the business. There is no doubt our predecessors did a great job, but we want to show our customers what we can do. BMB knows formalwear inside out and we have a global reach as a company.”

“Ben Sherman has been realigning its distribution in the UK and the brand needed a partner that could help to get its formalwear in a similar position as its casualwear as quickly as possible. We will make sure it looks like a brand, not a license, and we will work very hard on how it looks in-store.”

Gibson London, another of BMB’s suiting brands, bridges the gap between Ben Sherman suiting and BMB’s casual fashion ranges. Stone says it is “UK-centric and very profitable” and, while there is churn in the classic menswear independent sector, Stone says: “We may lose 10 accounts in a season [through store closures] but we always gain 10 new ones. Turnover is stable and it is a profitable brand for us.”

Stone has added a broader range of shirts to the collection this season to give stockists a “more complete” Gibson London offer.

Meanwhile, Stone says Baracuta, which shares about 20% of its customers with Gibson London and which is best known for its Harrington jackets, has been growing by steady double digits year on year, helped by the fact that it is a brand with broad appeal. “We can really stretch Baracuta. It works for that skinny jeans Pete Doherty type, or for someone such as Jeremy Clarkson because of its association with actor Steve McQueen.”

Stone has attempted to further exploit this stretch through collaborations to endorse its fashion credentials with the likes of Stussy, Comme des Gar篮s, Margaret Howell and, more recently, US casualwear chain J Crew.

Baracuta has about 100 UK accounts. “We’ve grown it very carefully and strategically,” explains Stone. “But we are now looking for a London flagship for Baracuta to help raise the brand profile. The business has grown through independents but, if we have international visitors, it would be good to be able to point them towards something
to showcase the DNA of the brand to help catapult Baracuta further afield.”

BMB Menswear acquired Melka, the largest of its brands, in 2007 and delivered its first collection for the Swedish lifestyle brand this autumn. Stone says that while retaining the brand’s Swedish handwriting has been a challenge, it was imperative that BMB did not lose Melka’s identity.

Stone says: “You can add more warehouse and new IT systems but you are always judged by your sell-throughs. You have to really structure your thinking when you take over a brand and be very conscious about how you handle it. We will never Anglicise Melka – we must always look at it through Swedish eyes.”

Because of this, BMB has retained Melka’s head office and design base in Sweden. Stone visits the head office in Sweden three to four days a month to work on product development and to catch up on sales.

While Stone has been committed to retaining Melka’s Swedish personality the brand has not stood still since BMB’s acquisition. Stone admits it had begun to feel “old”, and it was necessary for BMB to introduce young elements to the range to ensure growth.

In order to avoid alienating existing customers, Stone opted to introduce a sub-brand called Melka Gold, which launches in January and targets a younger trend-led customer than the core range. Stone says the range will sit alongside the likes of Acne, Nudie and Filippa K. He is looking for about 80 accounts across Europe in the first season.

Stone says the future of Melka lies in opening more shop-in-shops or concessions, to help strengthen the brand message and show it off as a co-ordinated collection.

“We have opened departments in four branches of El Cortes Anglais in Portugal and two in the Belgian Inno department stores in Bruges and Brussels. We are opening in Browns of York and are in negotiations with other retailers,” he says.

But does this strategy threaten Melka’s traditional wholesale customers? Stone says they stand to benefit. “It means we will have more drops and colours to service the departments, which our wholesale customers will be able to buy into.”

Another recent acquisition was 1…Like No Other, the fashion shirt brand that BMB rescued from administration earlier this year. It was only 12 seasons old when it fell victim to the collapse of parent company Glenaden Shirts, which suffered from a slump in orders from its own-label supply business.

The timing meant BMB was forced to create a collection in two weeks. Among the brand’s USPs is its short production run – 500 of each shirt are made, each with a retail price tag of 120. “1…Like No Other came with an excellent customer base and reputation on sell-through. We had to sell from swatches, but we were amazed with the results and it proved the brand was still in demand. We will keep the brand on the same path but we’d like to add cufflinks, ties, socks, belts and City shirts to the offer.”

Meanwhile, Pierre Cardin, which BMB took over in July from former menswear brand house Crowther, is expanding into new categories such as jeans, leather, shirting and casualwear, and will be launched in January.

While a vast portfolio of brands may ensure the spread of risk to BMB each season, managing product, marketing, branding and sales for so many brands is challenging, Stone says. “As long as we have a well-tuned team for each brand, it works. It is different to when I worked at Ben Sherman though. At Ben Sherman everyone, from the tea lady to the warehouse staff, were focused on one brand and one company. I spent three years working as a consultant after Ben Sherman, which trained me to think in a different way.
“At BMB you have to work at the top end, the middle market, or the value end but whatever you are doing the same principles apply – it’s always about the brand.”

What constitutes a brand for Stone? “We [the branded division] are still in our infancy. We’re never finished looking at what defines a brand. We strive to be faster to market and to deliver better.”

Stone comments that the market isn’t easy in the current economic climate but predicts the sector will come out in better shape.

He says: “There will still be branded menswear but there will be the next generation of branded menswear retailers too. How many new web businesses are springing up? The market is adapting.” Stone concludes: “There are still very good independents out there and what they need is great product.”

BMB is certainly striving to deliver that.

Group sales and marketing director, BMB Menswear
2003: Brands and licensing consultant
2000: UK sales director, Ben Sherman
1997: European sales and marketing director, Fred Perry
1992: Sales and marketing director – men’s division, Triumph International

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