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Superdry's Dunkerton: 'I've never liked big branding'

Diversification of branding will return Superdry to its wide consumer appeal, says interim chief executive and co-founder Julian Dunkerton despite an initial set of disappointing results.

Superdry released a “disappointing” set of results for the year to 27 April 2019, with a statutory pre-tax loss of £85.4m, compared with a £65.3m profit in 2017/18. Underlying profit before tax plummeted 56.8% to £41.9m from £97m year on year.

Dunkerton remained an advocate for Superdry’s strong branding at a post-results press conference, but stressed that its diversification would allow the brand to recapture wide consumer interest. 

“I’ve never liked big branding,” he revealed. “Different social groups like different levels of branding and I like subtle branding. People talk about the big branding but the subtle branding has always been a part of our DNA.

“The reality is that we are all sorts of things and you can never completely pin us down, and that’s the beauty of it.”

Dunkerton’s new product features individual logos ranging from subtle tags to round-arm badges and metallic lettering, alongside Superdry’s famous bold lettering. 

“Most brands do not integrate branding as part of their [design] process – they put it on after the event or have one logo. For us, this is absolutely key to the DNA of the brand so we can then target our consumers directly through the branding experience.”

With this approach, Dunkerton stressed that Superdry holds a unique place in the market: “What is Nike? It’s a swoosh. What is Adidas? It’s three stripes and a word. Every single [Superdry] product has got a different branding experience. That’s the key part of this. 

“You can talk to your individual consumer groups through the branding. Different people will take their own part of Superdry and make it theirs. This is unique because I don’t know of another brand that has that capability and that’s why we have such a brilliant future.” 

This, with an improvement in marketing and a focus on social media, will enable Superdry to recapture the younger audience, said Dunkerton. 

“The reality is we haven’t been talking to the younger consumer,” he said. “That’s where the social media comes in. Our social media team was tiny. We are going to expand it massively, we are taking it seriously. It’s a simple process of designing for them and then talking to them in the language that they want through the medium that they want.”

New creative director Phil Dickinson says Superdry’s key design groups are vintage and casual, sophisticated and sport and street. 

Differentiation in design teams between the Super Design Lab, led by co-founder James Holder, and the in-house team will allow the brand to ensure there is a breadth of trend-led product, as well as core classics – something Dunkerton believes was another key error in the previous team’s management. 

“Short-lead-time product has the ability to be fashionable. The previous model tried to bring an element of fashionability to a long-lead-time model. It’s physically not possible,” he said. ”If you bring in short-lead-time production you can be in tune with the whims and the ways of fashion.”

”Those fashion moments reconnect you with customers. If you want those young consumers, you have to deliver them that.”

The brand had delayed its results by a week because of the “complexity” of a store review and management changes: 40% of store lease negotiations are expected to be completed within two years, reaching 70% completion within four. Dunkerton labelled this a “Simon Wolfson” approach, and said the brand is in a “perfect negotiating” position, as should they fail to agree the terms that they want, stores can be closed on imminent lease expiries. 

Superdry appointed Nick Gresham as interim chief financial officer in May, and last week bolstered its board with the appointment of Marks & Spencer chief financial officer Helen Weir and New Look chief financial officer Alastair Miller. Both Weir and Miller start their respective roles as senior independent director and chair of the audit committee tomorrow. 

When questioned on the appointment of a permanent chief executive, chairman Peter Williams said: “We have appointed a headhunter and started a process, but what’s really important is that whoever comes in has to work very closely with Julian and the team so we’re not in a hurry.”

Williams and Dunkerton would not disclose in what function the co-founder would stay on at the company once his replacement had been found. 

On the brand’s longer-term forecasts, Dunkerton said: “This is a progression turnaround. This is a year of stability and small moves forward, and in twelve to 24 months you’ll see much more progress.”

 

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