IC Companys’ sales director for the UK and Ireland is already seeing results in his bid to turn around the performance of the Danish business’s brands on these shores.
When he joined IC Companys nine months ago as UK and Republic of Ireland sales director, Peter Andersen knew he was in for a tough challenge. Overall yearly sales results for the UK and Ireland were in decline, a number of unprofitable concessions had been closed and one of its major brands, Jackpot, had experienced seasons of negative growth. Yet Andersen relished the opportunity to get to grips with the business.
“It was mainly the lure of the fantastic brands that I’d always admired,” he says. “I don’t think the UK and Ireland were the best performing countries at the time within the IC Companys group, but I’ve always liked challenges. So it was the appeal of coming here and turning around what I thought were fantastic brands. I thought I could bring something to IC Companys that would help make it a success in the UK.”
So far, so good. Andersen, who was previously sales manager at Danish brand B Young, has achieved a sales rise of 6% in the first half of the 2007-08 financial year for the six brands under his care, and expects to close the year with a 14% increase in June. He reports that Jackpot is bouncing back and hit its UK sales targets for spring 08 and autumn 08.
Andersen says: “The UK division overall is above where we should be. For the first time in six years we’ve actually got a positive increase in the UK. We are above our target. So that is of course very nice, as one of my targets was to make it a profitable company.”
While Andersen is friendly and enjoys a joke, he has a strict strategy to increase the company’s standing in the UK. A key move will be to create a strong retail presence for its brands. IC Companys’ Jackpot brand has two stores and 12 concessions in the UK, while the Part Two brand has a couple of stores in Northern Ireland. To boost this figure Andersen has hired a new retail manager, Nigel John Simpson, who has worked with Diesel, Miss Sixty and Chilli Pepper. “I’m not saying we will have hundreds of stores, but we will have a retail presence with our own stores and franchise stores,” says Andersen.
IC Companys was created from a 2001 merger between two Danish fashion houses, InWear Group and Carli Gry International.
InWear Group’s roots can be traced back to 1969, when womenswear label InWear was launched. Its founder Niels Martinsen later added menswear label Matinique and a second womenswear brand, Part Two.
Carli Gry International was established in the 1940s. By the time of its merger with InWear it owned womenswear label Jackpot, men’s casualwear label Cottonfield and sport-inspired brand Peak Performance.
Since the merger, IC Companys has also acquired women’s fast-fashion brand Saint Tropez in 2002 and streetwear label Tiger of Sweden in 2003, as well as a 51% stake in Danish contemporary womenswear label By Malene Birger in 2003. In 2002 the company launched directional womenswear brand Designers Remix Collection and younger trend-driven brand Soaked in Luxury. IC Companys has a presence in 40 countries, with 11,750 doors, which as well as stockists includes standalones, shop-in-shops and concessions.
“As a company we’ve just come out with the best six-month results ever since the merger,” says Andersen. “We are just now seeing the benefits of the two companies merging – it is a very big ship to turn around but we are going in the right direction.”
Andersen manages the UK and Ireland sales for InWear, Part Two, Jackpot, Matinique and Cottonfield. These brands have a combined total of 480 accounts in the UK and 200 in Ireland. He also looks after short-order womenswear brand Soaked in Luxury, which launched in the UK in February for autumn 08 and has secured 50 accounts.
“The amount of stockists in the UK has increased,” says Andersen. “We think we have a decent, good distribution and we have nice accounts in the independents and department stores, so our focus at the moment is to increase our average spend with each partner. Of course, we need to see new accounts as there are exciting stores opening all the time and we need to be in contact with these people. But our focus at the moment is to increase sales within existing customers.”
IC Companys sells a new key collection from each brand four times a year and retailers can have injections of stock delivered 22 times a year, or 18 times for Jackpot and Part Two. “It means that something new can go in store every second week and the customers who keep coming back get some fresh product every time,” says Andersen.
New on the agenda are express lines, which will be sold in conjunction with seasonal offerings, and are designed to ensure new trends are not missed. “It is important we get on top of highlights and show them in the express collections. It means the business takes a risk and goes ahead and manufactures and buys product, but that means the customers can have them delivered quickly,” says Andersen. “We need to offer our accounts the possibility of competing with the high street.”
Jackpot is also set to introduce two new ranges each year; pre-spring and pre-autumn, and therefore will increase from four to six selling windows. It will offer a higher mark-up on product bought in pre-collections, of about three times the wholesale price.
Soaked in Luxury has a slightly different cycle, offering 10 ranges with 10 selling opportunities per year, a format which suits its trend-driven handwriting.
Part of Andersen’s strategy is to create a clear distinction between each brand in the portfolio and to ensure each brand is distributed to the most suitable accounts. He explains that changes have been made to each brand, so it may be that some products no longer sit as well with traditional accounts.
“Our brands Jackpot, Part Two and InWear each have their own look, so we have to consider if an independent can be right for all brands. We are not going to make a rule and say no one can have all three brands as that would be silly, but we have to make sure that the customer is right for the brand.
“We appreciate that some of our customers have had a brand for 20 years. I’m not about to go and say to a customer: ‘You’ve been with IC Companys for 20 years, but sorry you can’t have this brand any more.’ We have an idea of what we would like but we will go about it in a proper way. For me it is very important that everything we do is not just in the short term, but that we have a long-term vision of what we want.”
The evolution of the brands includes a new designer at InWear. Lene Borggard, formerly of Danish label Bruuns Bazaar, is moving the look forward and according to Andersen is bringing a more contemporary, upmarket twist to InWear.
“We have some really interesting key pieces that stand out at InWear. Of course, when you do things like that you can lose distribution, but also hopefully we will gain some new stockists. It takes time when there is a plan for a brand, and it will take time before we can say we are 100% happy,” says Andersen.
Jackpot has also undergone a change. After a decline in sales it has recently taken on a new managing director, Sune Bjerregaard, and is becoming increasingly focused on organic materials.
“Sune has implemented some old values into Jackpot,” says Andersen. “We have our own designed prints – we don’t go out and copy, which is very common nowadays. Of course we must have the right shapes and colours – when you see a Jackpot skirt you need to know it is a Jackpot skirt. The brand uses largely organic cotton, and through Jackpot we are supporting cotton farmers to become organic in India.”
Andersen explains that the organic products have a special hang tag which describes the label’s support for the farmers.
“If buyers buy organics we will support them with advertising at the store, because you have to educate the end consumer. Why does an organic T-shirt cost £20 when you can buy it at Primark for £5? When you do these organic things there is a cost to it and you need to tell the customer why some of our T-shirts cost £5 more than others,” he says.
Part Two is currently the biggest success of the three womenswear labels under Andersen’s control. Not only has it increased its independent retail presence and average spend within its existing accounts, but it has also been picked up by John Lewis department stores from autumn 08.
Andersen says: “Part Two has had a very steady run. The designer has been there for many years and the customer knows exactly what Part Two is. It sits in the middle of the other two brands nicely – it can be sold with Jackpot and it can also go with InWear.”
IC Companys has its own factories in Turkey, Portugal and the Far East. It also has product sourcing offices in China and production offices in Bangladesh, Romania, Turkey and China. Andersen says corporate social responsibility is high on its agenda and the firm is a member of human rights and environmental organisation United Nations Global Compact.
“Of course we don’t use child labour,” he says. “Since we were made aware of the mulesing issue (a method of producing wool that does not involve the use of anaesthetics on sheep) we will not use wool produced by that method.”
With all the talk of a slowdown in retail sales, Andersen is considering the potential impact on the business. “Of course I am concerned, as everyone is talking about the economic climate. And of course, the more people talk about it the more worried they get – so I think it’s important to look at the good stories. We have had good news from some of our retailers, some of which are having a fantastic time. I think the industry talks too much about a few key players who have a tough time.”
In order for independent retailers to survive the potential pitfalls, Andersen advises them to select appropriate merchandise and make sure it is unique.
“We’ve seen a big trend on the high street in recent years towards throwaway fashion, but I think that has changed now. Customers want something from independent retailers and department stores that is different to the high street. They want something with a signature and they don’t mind paying a little extra as long as the quality is right, the fit is right and the fashion is right.”
And that is exactly what Andersen hopes IC Companys can provide.
Who is your fashion mentor?
When I first started at Brandtex, my manager was the old-fashioned type. He said: “You know nothing about fashion, I will teach you everything.” Back in 1994, when I worked in Birmingham, I had to get in an hour before the shop opened every morning. My manager would take me around and pick out styles and teach me about them. I learnt a lot from him.”
Which is your favourite fashion retailer?
I’m a big believer in wearing my own brands, and I’m very proud to say that I wear them. But I don’t wear much of the women’s stuff. I’m looking forward to bringing the new store concepts for IC Companys to the UK. However, I like the Paul Smith store in London, and I like what Ralph Lauren has done with his stores – they are amazing.
What is the best-selling product you have ever worked on?
When I started, Brandtex was into what we called the Bingo trouser, a polyester trouser with an elastic waist. We sold millions of that style. With B Young it was the gypsy skirt. Now at IC Companys I’m proud to work with organic materials. It’s great, and I’m pushing for more of it.
What is your proudest achievement?
I’m proud of my family and the fact they have been able to move to the UK from Denmark. I have a nine-year-old son and he is definitely more English than Danish, which is fantastic. It’s brilliant that he can have an international education.
Apart from fashion, what would be your dream job?
I’d love to be a golfer and compete with Tiger Woods, but sadly my skills aren’t up to it.
2007: IC Companys sales director, UK & Ireland
2002: Sales manager at B Young
1994: Various roles at Brandtex in Denmark, including UK sales manager and European sales manager
Pre-1994: Began career as a baker in the family business in Denmark while studying for a masters degree in marketing