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Charles Tyrwhitt's staunch shirt strategy

Charles Tyrwhitt will remain competitive by avoiding the temptation to enter the overcrowded casualwear category, newly appointed chief executive Luke Kingsnorth, told Drapers.

Charles Tyrwhitt

“It starts and ends with product,” he said. ”We are a menswear specialist whose product you wear to work in a professional environment – that in itself is a huge market and huge opportunity for us.” 

Kingsnorth was appointed as CEO in April after Michael Stainer stepped down as chief executive after just 12 months in the role. Previous chief executive David Boynton left the business after just seven months. 

Following this flurry of short-term chief executives, Kingsnorth is an internal appointment.

He joined Charles Tyrwhitt in 2010 as ecommerce director, before being promoted to ecommerce and marketing director in 2012. He was then made president of the North American business, a role he held for almost three years.

“I’ve been in the been in the business for quite a while and that comes as a blessing and sometimes as a challenge,” he said. “While you understand the business and how things work, you also don’t get as much chance to sit back and reflect in those early days.” 

Charles Tyrwhitt currently has 41 stores worldwide, 27 of which are in the UK. The company has global annual sales figures of around £220m. 

While his competitors are broadening their product range, with TM Lewin repositioning to a menswear outfitter and Thomas Pink’s rebrand including the addition of women’s shirts to its collections, Kingsnorth plans to keep Charles Tyrwhitt focused. 

“We’ve recently seen the rise of the super-niche business, and the benefit for us is that we are very clearly focused on our offering,” he said. “We don’t do womenswear, kidswear, casualwear or a casual offering. We’re focused on our core business, which is dressing guys Monday to Friday for work, with absolute dead focus on the shirt being part of that. We’ve spent so many years building our reputation in that area that I want to cement that reputation.”

However, that is not to say that Kingsnorth is not taking note of his competitors’ behaviour in what is a volatile market. 

“People have upped their game, but we are an entrepreneurial business,” he said. ”The focuses for me are how to gear the business and our internal organisation to make sure we can adapt to change quickly.” 

A key component of this is being able to serve a rapidly changing customer and their expectations of the brand across all platforms: “As a customer, they don’t see channels, they just see a relationship with Charles Tyrwhitt whether that is online, through the phone or in store.”

“What I’m after is that when a customer interacts with Charles Tyrwhitt we know what they want and that their experience is consistent. We come from a direct [to consumer] background so we’ve had a customer database, and have been analysing what customers bought and when they bought it, for 30 years. However, there is still some work to be done there if we want to keep evolving.” 

This includes creating visual consistency across all channels – refurbishing some of the stores and bringing some character to what is, according to Kingsnorth, “an excellent functional website”. 

The business also remains entrepreneurial in its product development, innovating around stretch and fabric technologies to make businesswear comfortable without being casual. 

Kingsnorth’s experience as president of the North American business means he understands the importance of the businesses international scale – 60% of Charles Tyrwhitt’s sales come from outside of the UK. 

He said: “We are a predominantly international business – most of our sales come from outside of the UK and we’ve benefited from that over the years. While many of our competitors look overseas for growth, we’re already there.” 

Kingsnorth insists there is still scope for growth, however, this will be within its current core markets of the US, Germany, Australia and France, rather than expanding into new territories: “The US is a big focus market for us and there is more to do here, but we’re not going to go on a big crusade to enter a load of different countries because there are lots of opportunities in our five core markets first.” 

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