Two Drapers Independents Awards, new customers, wholesale plans for his own brand and an improving economy – we get the measure of master tailor Louis Copeland’s success.
On meeting Louis Copeland, co-owner of the eponymous mainstream menswear business, which has six stores in Ireland, it is obvious he is very much a hands-on businessman. A third-generation tailor, he has no office but is on the shop floor of his Capel Street store in the heart of Dublin city centre seven days a week.
“It’s a very personal service. I spend my time meeting people, it’s so important in retail. I see it like a high-class restaurant - you need the head waiter to make sure you’re looked after and that there are no problems. That’s me,” he explains.
It is this dedication that led to Louis Copeland & Sons winning Best Menswear Retailer and Best Store Design at the 2014 Drapers Independents Awards. “Winning one was great but with two I was over the moon. It was very unexpected,” he says.
Now in its eighth decade, the family-run business has become an Irish institution and has dressed the likes of former US president Bill Clinton, Irish rugby legend Brian O’ Driscoll, and a former James Bond, Pierce Brosnan, for his wedding day.
Indeed, the wedding and occasion season, which is now upon us, is Copeland’s busiest time of year. “It is communion and confirmation season in Ireland at the minute so it all helps, but weddings are a huge part of what we do. If we didn’t have that we probably wouldn’t have a business,” says Copeland.
“Men are starting to push the boat out for their wedding day again. April was brilliant. I haven’t seen that kind of sales uptake since 2007, so hopefully it keeps going.”
However, he declines to reveal what the sales uplift was or what it had been in 2007. Turnover for the year to April 30 improved by 4% year on year, although Copeland again declines to give figures. Industry sources suggest turnover is in the region of €7.5m (£5.5m).
The Dubliner says confidence is returning to Ireland after a turbulent seven years since the recession hit. “Since 2008, it’s been tough. At the lowest point our yearly turnover would have dropped 50% [compared with before the recession] and it is still not back to 2006 highs [a figure he declines to reveal] but is slowly creeping up. Consumer confidence is coming back. People were fearful of spending what they had saved over the last few years, they wanted to hold onto it for a rainy day, but if you walk around Dublin
you see the new 2015 cars; it hasn’t been like that for years.”
The business was founded by Copeland’s grandfather Hyman Caplan in 1933 when he opened the current 2,800 sq ft store on Capel Street in a former Allied Irish Bank branch. Louis’s father, also called Louis, took over in 1955. Louis and his brother Adrian - who runs the Pembroke Street store day to day - now run the business together.
Five more stores followed - Pembroke Street (1980) and Wicklow Street (1984) in Dublin, Merchants Road in Galway (2006), inside the Chq building in Dublin’s financial district (2008), and at the out-of-town shopping mall Dundrum Town Centre in south Dublin in 2013, which is run by Louis’s son, Louis Jr.
It was the 3,000 sq ft Dundrum shop that was awarded Drapers’ Best Store Design accolade. In Dublin’s most popular shopping centre, the unit was an old Hugo Boss franchise store run by the Copelands since 2008, but when the brand wanted to open its own shop at Dundrum it was converted into a Louis Copeland store in 2013. In its first year, sales increased by 9% on its Hugo Boss days.
Louis Jr worked with Dublin firm Jennings Design and local interior designer Helen Turkington to refit the store, which features parquet wooden floors, soft grey walls and furnishings and moulding on the ceiling. It has an on-site tailor in the rear of the shop who can alter suits while shoppers wait. A custom-built storage system on the first floor has a mechanised track on the ceiling, like that found in a warehouse, running the length of the store, where more than 400 suits are sorted by size.
The Dundrum store marked a new beginning for the business, which is increasingly appealing to younger men as well as its traditional older customers. A fashion-forward collaboration with Irish TV stylist Darren Kennedy, now in its fifth season for spring 15, has allowed the traditional tailor to be more adventurous in its designs, with bold colours and prints appealing to a trendier shopper. The six suit styles are sold as limited editions, with just 10 suits going into each store. Retail prices range from €500 (£350) to €1,000 (£715) for a suit.
Kennedy says he has “learnt a lot from the master tailor” over the last few years: “Louis took a gamble on me and the first range was a sellout. It has been very positive for all parties.”
Louis Copeland’s biggest third-party brands include Italian premium label Canali, Hugo Boss, Ted Baker and Barbour. William Ball, national account manager for Barbour, says: “The Louis Copeland name is to Irish people synonymous with quality, tradition, excellent service, great style with a personal touch. [They are] always looking forward, but never forgetting where they came from.”
But perhaps the biggest change in the business in recent years is the growth of Louis Copeland’s eponymous brand, which was launched in 2000 but now accounts for 50% of sales. The range of suits, retailing from €500 (£350) to €1,100 (£800), shirts at €130 (£90), blazers for €500 (£350) and ties at about €50 (£35) are made in Portuguese
and Italian factories and designed in collaboration with Copeland.
The range’s pricing architecture - 30% lower on average than the retailer’s branded product - was a major sales factor when Ireland hit the recession.
Copeland says: “When the recession came, people still wanted quality but didn’t want to spend big money, so we started sourcing our own suits. The customer can now get super quality at a reasonable price. The higher margin was very important for us as times were tough. The recession made us go down that path.”
When asked if he would consider wholesaling the brand, Copeland replies with a glint in his eye: “Maybe next year. It is on the cards.
“I’d love to see it in the big retailers like Selfridges. There is a big Irish community in the UK that knows the brand well, so it could work. Our own label is where we see the biggest growth. It has opened a door, so that’s what we’re looking to expand on.”
Another area of expansion is online, after the launch 18 months ago of a transactional website, Louiscopeland.com. Copeland says the web accounts for a “tiny part” of sales and is “very much a work in progress”, but acts as an important information tool for shoppers.
Louis Copeland, which employs about 50 people across its stores, is forward thinking and realises the power of advertising and getting its name out there. A glossy magazine created in-house, complete with a photo shoot, is sent to all customers every September and 50,000 copies are delivered as inserts in The Irish Times newspaper.
“It is vital to keep customers informed. That’s part of the relationship we have with our shoppers,” says Copeland.
“We keep in touch - we send follow-up emails after each purchase to make sure they are happy. Customer service is what it’s all about.”