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Fashion dynasties: Family-run firms at the forefront of the industry

Fashion is full of great dynasties. Drapers looks at what being a family business means today and the impact it has on company culture

THE LARGE RETAILER

Ben Lewis, chief executive officer, River Island

Ben Lewis, CEO of River Island

Ben Lewis: ‘Our family culture extends beyond the Lewises – great ideas are welcomed from anyone’

Ben Lewis: ’Our family culture extends beyond the Lewises – great ideas are welcomed from anyone’

“From the humble beginnings of Lewis Separates in east London back in the 1940s, to the River Island we know and love today with more than 300 stores globally, family has always been at the core of our business.

“This family culture extends beyond the Lewises – it’s an inclusive environment where great ideas are welcomed from anyone, from assistant to director level. We are very hands on in the way we operate – I personally work very closely with our top stakeholders across all departments.

“Our close corporate relationships allow us to be efficient and decisive when it is most crucial.”

River Island is a second-generation family business, founded by Lewis’s uncle, Bernard, with his four brothers, including Ben’s father, David.

Ben says it is both fun and challenging, and decision making is much quicker than in other types of firm, as there is less red tape: ”We make decisions because they are the right ones for the business and its long-term sustainability.”

THE MEDIUM-SIZE RETAILER

William Coe, managing director of the six-store Coes department store group

William Coe

William Coe: ‘It brings a sense of stewardship and continuity … and there’s also the fact there’s my name above the door’

William Coe: ‘It brings a sense of stewardship and continuity … and there’s also the fact there’s my name above the door’

I am the third generation of our family to run this business and my father is still involved at 78 years old, working five days a week. He will have had 60 years in the business next year.

My wife and one of my sisters work in the business, but two don’t. We’ve employed the next generation in the holidays – there are nine children – but none are permanently involved yet. It’s up to them if they want to join and they need to be passionate and interested about the business or it won’t work.

In terms of culture, there’s hopefully a sense of stewardship and continuity that comes with being a family-owned and -run firm. It’s not that other businesses don’t care, but I’d like to think we do have a more caring culture.

Out of a total of 180 employees, 61 have worked here for 10 years or more and 17 have done 25 years of more.

We have six directors, three of whom are family members, and three who aren’t. I think it is very important to have that mix. I also think it is important to have worked outside the business before you come in to learn and prove yourself. I worked somewhere else for nine years before I joined, and my sister did 10.

The other thing about being a family business is that it is our name above the door, which can definitely be a good thing or a bad thing! It means something to both people within the business and the local community – there’s a face to the name.

It can sometimes be difficult to separate the business from the family and I know others who have had stand-up rows or fallen out for good, but we’ve luckily always been OK. The key is to have clear and open communication and defined responsibilities.

We were also fortunate with the handover from my father. We took external advice and it was a structured process, so now everyone knows where they stand.

 

THE SMALL RETAILER

Martin Schneider, owner of premium men’s and women’s wear independent retailer Accent Clothing in Leeds

Martin Schneider

Martin Schneider: ‘It’s great to have someone you trust 100% and is in your corner completely for any big decisions’

Martin Schneider: ‘It’s great to have someone you trust 100% and is in your corner completely for any big decisions’


All of my family have worked for me at some point. My son, Jack, is now assistant manager and started working with us when he was 16. He went to university but came back because he wanted to work in the store, which we’d never mentioned but it works really well – he’s a great salesman.

It’s great to be able to work with my son every day and now my daughter Rebecca, who is 25, has joined the firm too and works with my wife, Louise, on our ecommerce and marketing.

The team is 32 people, so it’s important that Jack and Rebecca have never abused their position, but they never would anyway. I wouldn’t ever ask anyone to do anything I wouldn’t do myself.

I love that they are both involved and hopefully they can be a natural successor to us when we start to wind down, although that won’t be any time soon. We always talk about work at home, but we never fall out about it. It’s great to have someone you trust 100% and is in your corner completely for any big decisions. We’d never have the business we have today if it weren’t for Louise.

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