After building a mini retail empire in Jersey, The Collections Group boss Richard Clews now has his eye on online expansion.
Richard Clews is something of a local celebrity in Jersey. Managing director of independent retailer The Collections Group, Clews runs six shops on the island, which has a population of 90,000. His almost omnipotent presence in the St Helier community means a tour of his retail empire is interrupted at almost every turn by someone congratulating him on his promotional fashion show the night before.
“We put on our shows twice a year as a platform for the new season’s product,” explains Clews of the event. “We had more than 600 guests this time, which included representatives from some of our key brands who flew in for the night, my 60 staff, and our key customers, who receive a 20% discount in-store the next day. People on the island really look forward to it.”
The party was held in local nightclub Liquid & Envy and featured entertainment from 1980s soul heavyweight Alexander O’Neal and Radio 1 DJ Dave Pearce. “I think the mix of music reflected our customers – from the very young through to the somewhat older,” smiles Clews.
This sense of inclusion has been key in driving The Collections Group’s sales. Year-on-year figurers rose 5.2% across Clews’ chain of Axle stores, which cover womenswear, menswear – both casual and formal – and kidswear, all located within the hub of St Helier’s main shopping street.
Originally from the Midlands, Clews moved to St Helier in 1991 after meeting his Jersey-born wife while travelling. He began working for menswear store Mensclub in 1993 and became director two years later. He quickly added to his portfolio with a chain of four Jersey shops under the Axle fascia, plus Axle stores in Guernsey and Reigate in Surrey, as well as a French Connection franchise in St Helier and a menswear concession in department store De Gruchy. This empire now makes up The Collections Group, of which Clews is managing director.
This year has proved to be a big one for Clews. He decided to shake up the product offer within his stores early on in 2007, which involved switching sites and changing branding. The former AxleMan store on Halkett Place in St Helier was rebranded to Mensclub – its original name when Clews had first worked there back in 1993 – with a dedicated formalwear and tailoring offer from brands including Canali, Boss Black, Gant and Polo Ralph Lauren.
The largest site at 27 Beresford Street in St Helier, formerly menswear and womenswear emporium AxleClothing, was reopened as a shrine to womenswear, from premium young fashion to designer brands. The 2,200sq ft store, shortlisted in the Best Womenswear Independent category at this year’s Drapers Awards, underwent a £120,000 refit back in February. “I decided it was time to go for it with womenswear,” says Clews. “Talking to both my shoppers and my staff, the demand was clearly there for a bigger female offer.”
The art-inspired neon decor provides a bright and sophisticated shopping environment, with a dramatic window display showcasing the previous week’s best-selling pieces. The mix is meticulously planned and has something for all ages and styles. “We want to appeal to the whole spectrum of female shoppers on the island,” says Clews.