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Superdry's super troopers

Despite a few hiccups, customer support for Superdry has never wavered. So it’s no wonder its co-founders are plotting a global offensive.

Sitting in the showroom atop SuperGroup’s impressive Regent Street flagship, Superdry’s vast product range is clear to see.

There are the infamous graphic T-shirts and hoodies hanging in a rainbow of colours, but also examples of the brand’s evolution into tropical printed shorts and embellished dresses for women and soft-touch chinos and grown-up tailoring for men.

Superdry has come a long way since it launched nine years ago as the in-house brand of Julian Dunkerton’s Cult Clothing chain, and although now a global business, its co-founders, chief executive Dunkerton and brand and design director James Holder, are still its beating heart.

Holder says: “Jules and I are so dedicated to this business and are so passionate about what we do. We’re still learning on a day-to-day basis but you’re not going to find a hungrier, more passionate group of people.

“I’m not sure a global brand has been created to this level in under a decade,” says Holder. “We grew really quickly. First it was T-shirts, then it was polos and then it was jackets and obviously we all know about the windcheaters.”

Nearly a decade on and SuperGroup’s stockists will testify that its windcheaters remain a hit with shoppers, with the casual jacket style a reliable sellout.

“Every 12 months we evolve the design,” says Holder. “It’s the super-fine balance of not reinventing a classic. It has to stay true to its roots but it has to move on so people don’t get bored.”

Hereford young fashion indie Fit’s managing director Luke Conod reiterates the popularity of the jacket: “This week alone we’ve ordered another 60. They’re flying off the shelves.”

Conod says that for autumn 12 he has doubled the in-store selling space across Superdry’s men’s and women’s ranges and dropped smaller brands in favour of the trusted big-hitter. “Obviously it’s got a huge following and they’ve got the balance between quality and price right. In these austere times people are looking for value for money as well as a recognisable brand name.”

Conod isn’t the only stockist to sing the brand’s praises. Henry Scott, assistant buyer and supervisor at young fashion indie Javelin, which has two stores in Suffolk, says Superdry is always in its top three best-selling brands for both menswear and womenswear.

He flags up the “key pieces” including windcheaters, hoodies and graphic T-shirts as the perennial best-sellers and says the Superdry customer hasn’t changed much over the years: “We still get the 16-year-old and we also still get 50-year-old men in as well.”

SuperGroup has continued to defy any critics that suggest the brand is past its best, delivering a 16.3% rise in sales in the first half to October 28 with like-for-like retail sales up 3.9%.

However, with 105 standalone stores in the UK and Europe, SuperGroup’s retail expansion has hit its UK wholesale business, with sales in this division continuing to slow over the period. “When you open stores you can’t have a competitor in the same town – but there are still hundreds of towns where there are [potential] indie stockists,” says Dunkerton.

“My expectation now is for the UK to gently stabilise and then I suspect it will go back into growth, because as we [slow down] our UK [retail] operations we’re then talking about like-for-like wholesale and I think there’s lots of room for expansion there.”

This year, SuperGroup decided to rebrand all its Cult stores as Superdry, with this process set to be completed by Christmas.

Previously, SuperGroup pledged to open 20 stores a year, but from now on Dunkerton says UK store openings will be very “select”.

“We’re doing Trinity Leeds and we’re moving within Bluewater to a much larger site,” he says. “There are still some key cities that we’re not in so we’ll still progress in the UK but not at that 20 stores a year level, because now we’re focusing on the rest of the world.”

Outside the UK, SuperGroup also has 122 franchised and licensed stores, with the brand sold in 54 countries. Next on the agenda is its first group-owned standalone store in Germany, in Oberhausen. The excitement about the store opening is palpable as Dunkerton and Holder believe this could be the beginning of big things in Germany.

“From a wholesale perspective it’s one of the biggest growth areas. We know they love the brand,” says Dunkerton. “So for us to now have the chance to open our own store and do it in a unique way is exciting, because obviously if it works it is a massive opportunity for us.”

Online also offers “boundless opportunity”, says Dunkerton. “The headline-grabbing potential of online is huge, because every territory you open a franchise in also opens it on an online level because of the brand awareness.”

The pair are hugely passionate about the business – at times during the interview both Dunkerton and Holder leap up to grab garments to show off the fabrics and designs.

Holder, the brand’s creative force, says Superdry hasn’t even scratched the surface when it comes to womenswear and denim, hence it is now focusing on these categories.

“The British womenswear customer has so much choice, it’s constantly changing and we want to tap into that,” Holder says. Superdry is now producing monthly drops of product in a bid to inject freshness into the range, which wholesale stockists will be able to benefit from.

The womenswear collection displays a distinctly feminine twist, featuring flirty floral dresses, ice cream-coloured knitwear and even the occasional sequin. “The spring order book is very promising,” says Holder.

Superdry has also created a higher-priced collection called Superdry Luxe, which features hand-embellished casual sportswear and party dresses. The full 12-piece autumn 12 collection will initially launch in 34 Superdry stores before Christmas, with half of the range also available on short order to stockists. From January, stockists will be able to buy the full range.

This seems to be a strong move away from the brand’s core range, but Dunkerton disagrees: “I think there has been, not a public stereotyping, but a press stereotyping of the brand with a lack of understanding about what we really do. We make classic clothes with James’s twist in a very tailored, slim way.”

The notoriety of its logoed T-shirts and hoodies is not a negative in Superdry’s eyes. “It becomes a word-of-mouth marketing tool,” says Holder. “We’re not splashing out on double-page spreads and taking the traditional marketing routes. It’s a major marketing thing for us to have 20 different Superdry logos walking around.”

Despite a catalogue of issues over the past year or so, including a warehouse glitch that led to stock shortages – “an arithmetic error” – and poor communication with the City, Dunkerton remains bullish about the future.

“One of the reasons we became a public company was to prepare for a global push and to bring in skills we didn’t have,” he says.

“So long as we don’t take our eyes off the ball, our global position is assured forever.

I don’t feel the breath of competition.”

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