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Seamless and invisible: Brand Machine Group’s growth strategy

Childrenswear licensing group Brand Machine plans to grab more market share through product development and new partnerships.

“We want to become the go-to place for kidswear,” says Boo Jalil, CEO of kidswear licensing business Brand Machine Group (BMG). He is speaking to Drapers shortly after announcing that the London-based company he founded in 1990 has won a contract to design, manufacture and market childrenswear for sports and casualwear brand Russell Athletic.

Launching this September, the Russell Athletic range will comprise clothing for girls and boys aged 0 to 15 years, including T-shirts, sweatshirts and accessories.

The tie-up brings BMG’s portfolio of kidswear brands to 11. Operating across the UK, Europe, the Middle East and the US, it also has the full rights to design, develop and deliver clothing and accessories for US Polo Assn, Ben Sherman, Henri Lloyd, Original Penguin, Farah, Franklin & Marshall, Lyle & Scott, Juicy Couture, Money and Elle.

As it gears up to mark its 30th anniversary next year, Jalil reveals plans for more brand partnerships, as he strives to grow the company’s market share.

Trading is strong despite the current market conditions. BMG’s European retail sales hit £135m in the year to January 2019, up 23% on the year before.

Although Jalil is confident in the portfolio, he says trading is difficult in France, Spain and Italy, where consumers tend to prefer smarter kidswear than the styles its brands offer. However, he is determined to crack these markets by setting up new distribution partners and increasing its focus on marketing.

“We’re focusing on the markets that we already have a foothold in and are introducing two new international partnerships in France and Belgium [with distribution companies Effective Sarl and ARW respectively]” he adds.

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US Polo Assn

BMG will only partner with brands that fit with its ethos, which Jalil describes as “True alignment on DNA and distribution, with companies who understand that kidswear is a specialist market.

“If we’re considering a brand partnership, we factor them into our three-year plan to see how it will play out. If we think it will work, then we’ll pursue it, otherwise we won’t.

“I’m always looking to grow [BMG] and have a few dream brands that I’d love to work with.” He will not reveal which brands these are, but adds: “I’m realistic and sensible about expansion. I want to make sure we grow in a profitable way that keeps BMG relevant.”

He argues that an important factor in BMG’s relationship with its clients is its effort to remain behind the scenes: “We work hand-in-hand with brands. We don’t make a single decision without telling them what our plans are or what we’re thinking. This has allowed us to create a seamless business whereby [BMG] is invisible – we protect the reputation and DNA of the brands that we work with and consumers don’t have a clue that we’re a licensee.”

Mark Bezodis, managing director of licensing and international development at Perry Ellis International, owner of Original Penguin, supports Jalil’s contention: “Although it is a licensee, BMG is equal to anyone on the Original Penguin payroll. They are integrated into our working ways, structure and fully understand the ethos of Original Penguin, which makes them an excellent partner.

“We work closely with [BMG] from early conception to delivery, and ensure that they manufacture designs to inspire our customers, and that adopt the facets, quirks and style of [the brand].”

Jalil says another key focus moving forward is product development. The company trialled some new categories for spring 19 – it will not share more detail – and is pushing wovens for spring 20.

This move to freshen up the product has been supported by several recent hires, ranging from heads of departments to sales, merchandising, design, buying, and online and offline marketing teams.

“We’ve employed a lot of millennials and Generation Z across all departments over the last 18 months. They have a very different, fresher perspective. BMG has been around for 30 years and it’s easy to get stuck in your own ways, but that can hold the business back.

“If we want to be around in another 25 years, then we need to continue to modernise BMG over next 18 months.” 

Varying customer expectations in the markets BMG serves may prove a challenge, but its dedication to strong product and partner relationships should help it to face up to them as it grows.

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