Jacques Vert Group boss Teresa Tideman is forging a modern identity for its portfolio of classic brands.
Jacques Vert Group’s (JVG) second annual charity ‘Coatwalk’ last month was a typically British affair - a cluster of women striding around a central London park, brollies braced against the driving rain. It was the first downpour the Southeast had seen for weeks, but they smiled through it knowing they were raising money for Macmillan Cancer Support; not to mention the promise of a cup of tea, slice of cake and fashion show featuring JVG’s latest collection of coats at the finish line.
The first Coatwalk was in October 2013, a few months after Teresa Tideman joined as chief executive. It formed part of a strategy to strengthen JVG following its formation on the back of a merger between two separate womenswear businesses, Irisa Group and Jacques Vert, in 2012. As well as supporting Macmillan - this year it raised more than £7,000, with more proceeds to be donated from sales of its coats in October - it was a way of bolstering the group’s profile and uniting its staff. The first event also secured JVG’s place as a finalist in the Drapers Awards 2014 Marketing Campaign of the Year category.
JVG has been on quite a journey over the past few years. It started in September 2011, when struggling womenswear retailer Alexon Group - which housed eponymous brand Alexon, as well as Minuet Petite, Kaliko, Eastex and Dash - fell into administration and was acquired by private equity backer Sun European Partners as part of a pre-pack deal, and renamed Irisa Group. The following December, Sun European bought womenswear business Jacques Vert and its stable of brands - Windsmoor, Precis Petite, Planet and eponymous brand Jacques Vert - aimed at women in their 50s and above.
A month later Sun European announced it would merge the two firms as JVG. Deputy chief executive Jane McNally stepped down after overseeing the integration of the two businesses in August 2012, followed a few months later by chief executive Paul Allen. McNally was formerly chief executive of Irisa, and Allen was head of Jacques Vert pre-merger.
When Tideman joined in March 2013, the group had all nine brands in its portfolio. The logistical integration of the two businesses was all but complete, but there was still work to be done. “There was a need to take a step back and view the wealth of the portfolio of brands, look at our team and organisation and determine the best way forward, to make sure each of our brands had a clear identity,” explains Tideman.
This led to the decision earlier this year to “rest” two brands, Alexon and Minuet Petite, which the company decided overlapped too much with other, better-performing brands (such as Precis Petite). Mainstream classic Alexon had been around since 1929, but Tideman has no regrets about axing it. “We spoke to the guests [how Tideman refers to customers] and everyone involved. We have a broad portfolio of brands and [our customers] said the others were covering what they were looking for.”
When Drapers broke the news of Alexon’s demise, readers were concerned. “Unbelievable. Great brands that have traded well for years have been wiped out,” said one anonymous commenter. However, Dublin department store Arnotts stocks Jacques Vert, and used to stock Alexon. Chief executive Ray Hernan says the brand rationalisation was needed: “They were trying to be everything to everybody and some of the brands were falling between the gaps. Now it has a clear focus and a clear target market.”
Tideman says the company’s other retail partners were just as supportive. JVG has 15 stores and about 400 concessions in the UK and Ireland, including in Debenhams, John Lewis and House of Fraser: “Our decision was informed by the guests and has been reinforced by our hosts (retailers). Commercially, it was the right decision.”
The latest accounts filed on Companies House show JVG made a post-tax loss of £14.3m in the 39 weeks following the merger to January 26, 2013. Total sales were £85.5m. Although full figures for the year to January 2014 are not yet available, JVG says group turnover has increased 115% in the 52 weeks to £184m. A spokeswoman says profits are down but declines to give figures. “Trading is encouraging and the Jacques Vert brand has recently been trading at double-digit like-for-like growth,” she adds.
Jacques Vert’s roots date back to 1972, when London tailors Jack Cynamon and Alan Green began working together, and the brand itself was launched in 1977, using French versions of their names. Tideman says this year will be its most successful to date, after everything from the product design, labelling, logo, store environment and website was refreshed for spring 14. “We spent a huge amount of time talking to customers, understanding what they want and making sure we’re delivering,” she says. “Everybody thought Jacques Vert was a mother-of-the-bride brand - and that’s a very important segment - however, there were another 34 occasions we could dress her for, such as christenings, lunches, anniversaries, cruises and racing.” More eveningwear was also added. “The journey’s just beginning; we have a lot more planned,” adds Tideman. She will not give details on how the other brands are performing, other than to say the “key brands” in terms of sales are Jacques Vert, Precis Petite - offering smaller sizes, as its name suggests - and 63-year-old Eastex, which offers day and evening wear.
Tideman has extensive experience in merchandising, sales and marketing. She got her first job in 1979 as an allocator in the menswear department of the Burton Group (now part of Arcadia), and she stayed with the company until 1992, working at retailers including Dorothy Perkins, Topman and Principles. (Her husband, Chris Tideman, was a long-serving Burton Group director.)
“It was a culture and a time where anything was possible. We would be told on a Monday, ‘OK team, we’re going up that mountain by Friday - and the only question was, ‘What colour flag would you like me to put on top of it?’ I also had 15 years of the most wonderful training in terms of technical knowledge, how to allocate, how to buy. That really set me up for where I am now. I learned how to work at speed, but keep focused on the end consumer.”
She moved to Australia in 1994 to work with department store chain David Jones, another employer on which she heaps praise. “It was one of the best jobs of my life. I was head of womenswear, cosmetics and accessories and I did everything from own buy development through to negotiating the Giorgio Armani Black Label concession space to go into the store, and everything in between. I learned a lot about international brands.”
Returning to the UK in 1997, she joined The Disney Store Europe first as buying director, then ran the licensing division and latterly worked as senior vice president and joint managing director, a role she took on in 2005. “When I started they had just launched the Disney stores in the UK and so it was a pretty new phenomenon and people weren’t sure about it. I went over to America and was lucky enough to meet Roy Disney [nephew of Walt].
He had an encyclopaedic knowledge of and passion for the brand. I asked him why he was opening a store, and he looked at me and said, ‘My dear, it is of course to bring the magic into people’s everyday lives; that’s why Disney exists.’ That’s when I started to really understand about acting as the brand - it was about quality and execution of every single thing you do; you can’t accept second best. I try to instil that into everybody in the team.”
She says she was instantly attracted to the job at JVG. “The opportunity to lead a business that was going to bring together two businesses and such a wealth of amazing brands seemed phenomenal.” When asked if she would consider acquiring additional brands, she laughs in a way that suggests it’s a common question. “We’re on a journey and couldn’t be happier with where we are right now. We’re very comfortable with the brand portfolio.”
Her focus now, as with most retailers, is on ecommerce and international markets, which account for 14% and 16% of total sales, respectively. JVG relaunched its brand websites last month, investing a “significant” but undisclosed amount in making it responsive. “We’re thrilled with it,” says Tideman. “One of the key reasons for doing the platform launch was to bring in and fully service the needs of mobile technology. We’ve seen a 100% increase in mobile conversions since we introduced it. It’s all about now designing what we do creatively to fit tablet and mobile first and foremost and desktop second.
“I remember people in the office saying, ‘Surely you’ve got an older demographic - she isn’t going to want to use a tablet, is she?’ But my mother is 80 and we bought her an iPad for Christmas. She has never had a computer, but she has got into online shopping now through the tablet. And with older guests, by offering a customer telephone line as well it gives her reassurance. It talks to our multichannel approach; making sure we link everything up.”
Tideman also hints that the business is on the brink of moving into new markets, with more detail expected at its press day on November 11. JVG trades in five markets: the UK, Ireland, Belgium, the US and Canada. It launched into the US for spring 14 with a new brand, Planet London, an offshoot of Planet, which is not available in the UK.
Tideman says all signs point to it being a success, although it is on a small scale compared with JVG’s UK brands, with only one online stockist, department store Lord & Taylor.
The British heritage of the brand is key to its potential overseas, she adds. “It’s not a brand that’s come off the streets from nowhere with the idea to conquer the US; it is a house of elegant brands that has a rich and deep history going back to the 1930s [Windsmoor, the group’s oldest brand, was established in 1933] - and we can tell that story. Our expertise is in quality, the technical fit and expert tailoring. We started as a group of tailors making coats.”
In July, JVG revealed it had poached George at Asda’s Pauline Chisholm to fill the newly created role of head of business development. Chisholm started at the end of September, tasked with overseeing the sourcing, scoping and delivery of all new business channels and opportunities in the UK and internationally, including franchise, online, concession, licensing and wholesale. “She has a long list of things she’s looking at. We are close to announcing some additional international expansion plans,” says Tideman.
Back in the UK, she is proud of the group’s designer collaborations and says these will be further developed over the coming months. Irish designer Lorcan Mullany teamed up with Jacques Vert from spring 14 to create some of its dresses and evening gowns, and milliner Rachel Trevor-Morgan also designed hats and headpieces for spring 14. Mullany’s autumn 15 designs will be featured in December’s issue of Vogue, marking the group’s return to the magazine after a long hiatus. “We were regularly featured through the 1950s, often on the cover,” says Tideman.
“We’re so proud that elegant British brands are literally back in Vogue. What that says to me is we have been a great company but a number of things have happened along the way - and now we’re back on the right road.”
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