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Close up: Allan Nielsen, Bestseller’s UK and Ireland manager

Bestseller’s UK and Ireland manager says the brand house is bucking the downturn with its combination of new launches and keeping current customers happy.

Administrations, redundancies and closures have dominated the headlines over the past five years as the recession has hit the high street hard. Some have fallen by the wayside, while others have chosen this time to step forward and prosper. And Danish brand house Bestseller, parent to young fashion brands Vero Moda and Jack & Jones, is one of the latter, with a raft of sub-brands set to debut this year along with a string of store openings.

“It is tough, the market is very tough,” says Bestseller country manager for the UK and Republic of Ireland Allan Nielsen, who has been with the business for 11 years, during which he launched Jack & Jones in the UK. “However, with the recession we’ve been quite fortunate because it forces retailers to look at the brand mix. They are thinking,’Which brands that I carry do I make money with? What is my profit and what about recommended retail prices - are they strong enough?’ It’s very tough but it’s also been the time for us to tell our story.”

And what a story it is. Bestseller is the owner of 16 brands and also spotted the early potential in etail giant Asos, in which it is a majority shareholder with a 28% stake.

Parent company Bestseller Global had a turnover of £2bn in the year to the end of July 2012 (which excludes the sales of its Chinese business and womenswear brand Vila - the latter having a separate income system). Bestseller UK has doubled its turnover in the past three years and is in line to up its turnover by 30% in the current financial year. The UK growth has come from just a few new retail openings, explains Nielsen, with the majority of the rise fuelled by better sales within existing wholesale accounts.

To compete with tough competition from the likes of fast-fashion giants Zara and H&M, Bestseller has upped its game and is looking to be faster than before. “We used to think six to eight weeks was fast, but it isn’t. Now we’re looking at doing two to four-week deliveries,” says Nielsen, as he sits with Drapers in an east London coffee shop.

“We’ve introduced new brands that are specialists in fast fashion and have invested in a new distribution centre enabling us to give and drive that growth globally. Before, we had six different warehouses, so needed to consolidate the product and ship it each time. That costs time, a minimum of a week. So we are consolidating all of that into one huge distribution centre and investing €100m (£84m)-plus.”

To ensure its brands can react instantly to trends, Bestseller has set up fast-fashion teams within a selection of its labels including womenswear brands Only and Vero Moda and has trendspotters around the globe keeping up to date with the latest looks. Within Only, Bestseller set up fast-fashion division Only United, which focuses on fast fashion with a maximum of six weeks from initial idea to delivery. “It works with fast-fashion suppliers
in Turkey and the UK and also works with factories in Bangladesh, India and China, and it is flying the product over instead of shipping it,” says Nielsen.

Bestseller is also launching a range of new labels this year to continue the growth seen over the past three years.
Short-order collection JDY has launched for autumn 13 offering “good basic fashion at incredible prices”, according to Nielsen, while women’s denim line Noisy May will begin wholesaling for spring 14 and is billed as “Vero Moda’s naughty little sister”. For autumn 13, Bestseller will also debut plus-size label Junarose. “Forget about the basics, we want to be really on trend, catering to a 23-year-old girl. And they want to be fashionable,” says Nielsen.

As well as expanding its ranges, Bestseller is also plotting an influx of new stores in the UK, he says. “Jack & Jones has 45 stores but we plan to grow that to 60 in the next 18 months.” Nielsen and his team are also looking at a range of key UK locations in which to launch Vero Moda standalone stores. In Ireland the brands are “household names”, he explains, and the company has 80 stores in the country.

“In the UK there is a lot of work to do. Yes we are growing but we are not the household name we expect to be in the future; 45 stores isn’t the number we expect to end up with. You could have 100 stores minimum per brand and we have 16 brands, but it’s not something I’m looking at short term; it’s long-term growth.”

Despite Bestseller’s ambitions to grow its retail arm, wholesale still makes up the bulk of the business, contributing 70% of sales.

One thing that really comes through from both Nielsen and the Bestseller stockists Drapers has spoken to is that the company makes a real effort to work closely with retailers to get the most out of the relationships. Ed Quiligotti, head of menswear at young fashion chain Bank, which stocks Jack & Jones, says he works closely with the Bestseller team on special Jack & Jones pieces tailored to the retailer’s needs, which are exclusive to Bank.

Quiligotti adds that Jack & Jones does not rely on the strength of its brand name to sell product and instead consistently provides stockists with a selection of “great product”, as well as offering an “absolutely vital” ‘never out of stock’ system, which provides retailers with in-season pieces.

“One of the only frustrations is that there is a huge amount of product you get shown but you can only get so much,” says Quiligotti. But there’s a flipside, too. “There’s so much to choose from that four or five retailers in the same town can all stock Jack & Jones and have a totally different selection.”

Pippa Sandison, owner of contemporary womenswear indie Boudoir Femme in Cambridge, which stocks Selected Femme, agrees that Bestseller is very proactive in terms of getting product out there, with the express collections a must for fresh injections of stock. “It has been very good to us locally and has ensured us exclusivity. It is very supportive in that way,” she says.

A supportive nature seems to pervade every aspect of the business. “It’s an extremely flat structure,” explains Nielsen. “It’s an extremely close corporation. If you have a good idea - a new retail store, a new head office, or want to do something different online - then I call the owner [Bestseller chief executive Anders Holch Povlsen] and we make the decision.”

Bestseller UK is priming itself for more growth and will move from its current premises in Bedford Square, Bloomsbury, to a new office in east London later this year, while the staff count in its UK division has grown 30% over the past year, to 60. “I wanted an open-plan office,” says Nielsen. “I wanted to bring all of our 16 brands under one roof and use that synergy. I want it to be noisy. Let’s learn from each other. We have the best buyers and the best phone sellers - why not learn from each other?”

He says he tries to employ people with a better CV than himself. “They can hopefully give us some knowledge from outside so we can up our game as well. So far it’s been successful,” he says, as I joke that he ought to be careful with that strategy if he doesn’t want to lose his job. But Nielsen can be safe in the knowledge that as Bestseller keeps growing, so does his CV.

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