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White Stuff boss sets out retail expansion plans

White Stuff is to expand further in the UK and overseas, opening new stores in Germany, concessions in Belgium and Italy, as well as new stores in Plymouth, Ludlow and Newark later this year.

The company increased international sales by 28.1% in the year to April 30, opening stores in Munster and Oldenburg in Germany.

It is planning to extend its footprint further in Germany through a combination of own retail, wholesale and concessions and online, chief executive Jeremy Seigal told Drapers.

White Stuff has six shops in the pipeline for next year in locations including Koblenz and Cologne.

It is also expanding its partnership with Karstadt department store, with new concessions set to open in Hanover and Freiburg.

It is opening in Belgium with department store chain Inno in Ghent and Brussels, and launching two concessions with Italian department store Coin. It also plans to expand wholesale in countries including France and Canada.

On Brexit, Seigal said White Stuff will have to manage the short-term challenges of exchange rate fluctuations like any other business but said it is too soon to assess any impact on consumer confidence in the UK and overseas.

“There is an opportunity for UK retailers as exporters through Brexit,” he said. “Our international plans could be underpinned by the current events but no one really knows what will happen next.

“We have to manage what we know and be prudent with that which we don’t know.”

Seigal said the business has been trading ahead of expectations since the start of the new financial year at the start of May and the business has already opened stores in Cribbs Causeway and Colchester.

It also has plans to open in other UK locations including Plymouth, Ludlow and Newark as the business remains “very committed to the UK”.

Some independent retailers have raised concerns to Drapers about White Stuff and other lifestyle brands opening stores in locations where they have existing distribution.

Seigal underlined that he wants to maintain a co-operative approach with its partners: “It’s important to look after all of our customers and recognise all channels of distribution, both the final consumer and our stockists.

“It can be a challenge when you increase distribution but we need to be open and honest about it, and not give people unpleasant surprises. We sometimes get it wrong but we do try to get it right.”

In terms of future challenges, Seigal said he is continually focused on multichannel, using data in an insightful way to make sure the customer is treated well and “with clarity”, however they come across the brand.

White Stuff, which prides itself on being listed in The Sunday Times Top 100 companies to work for the past eight years and named Best Place to Work at the Drapers Awards in 2015, increased total sales by 10% to £144.6m for the year to April 30, while EBITDA fell by 2.9% to £20.4m.

On the rising costs associated with the national living wage and increased pension costs, Seigal said: “This has actually made us focus on what we’re doing and making sure we’re doing the right thing for our people, because businesses are about people.”

In the last financial year it has invested around £500,000 into local charities through the White Stuff Foundation, which has raised a total of £2.1m since it was established in 2010.

Seigal said it he believes it is important to support small charities because “small things matter” and that keeping that localism is what he loves about the White Stuff business.

The business has funded 880 scholarships for the factory workers of its employees in Bangalore, India, to date and Seigal walked the British 10k London Run this year to raise enough money for 10 more.

“It’s great to think that, whether local or overseas, you can make a difference and that you can do it as part of the business,” he said.


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