Wednesday January 1st 2020
Directorzone GRID company interview series: Richard Harvie, Director of Harvie & Hudson.
- The story
- Tough medicine: innovate to survive
- What’s next?
- GRID co-ordinates and relationships
The founders of HARVIE & HUDSON – Jermyn Street Shirtmakers and Men’s Outfitters – put off launching their business in order to serve their country in World War II. One fought in Burma and the other helped to make uniforms for over 3.5 million men and women in the British armed forces.
Nearly 70 years after the post-war launch of the business, Richard Harvie, Andrew Hudson and Lee Beaumont (née Hudson ) - the grandchildren of these men - are carrying the company torch into the modern era, with online trading, PPC advertising, sophisticated inhouse systems and procurement methods.
However, like every successful business, Harvie & Hudson has had its baptism of fire. Having expanded their business from 1 to 4 shops across London after 1985, the new generation of family entrepreneurs realised that they had over-extended a traditional business model and needed to change fast. To assess their business and the changes needed, in 2012 they turned to one of their most enthusiastic customers, Paul Sweetenham, who had 18 years’ experience launching and building the TK Maxx business in Europe and who became a Non-executive Director of Harvie & Hudson. The family also engaged Michael Barcia, a director of Meridian Corporate Finance in Southampton, who Richard Harvie describes as “a great support and ongoing mentor”.
Taking an outsider’s advice is a challenge for any traditional, family-run business. It can also involve big risks. Richard Harvie explains what happened next….
Tough medicine: innovate to survive
The biggest shock to the system was closing stores and making staff redundant. Luck, however, and good judgement played a part in this decision. The leases on 2 of the shops in central London were coming to an end - to make way for re-development projects - and the other shop in Lime Street, EC1 was struggling. As a result, Harvie and Hudson closed 3 stores over a 3-year period.
Whilst retrenching, the company boldly decided to invest the largest sum of money in its history in modernising all aspects of its business. It introduced the Cegid system for electronic point of sale, inventory and retail management – also used by Sweaty Betty and Victoria Beckham's label. It reorganised the existing team based on a skills inventory and hired specialist staff. The new Ecomm and Marketing manager, Rebecca Thelwell, came from LK Bennett and the Merchandising and Planning manager, Greg McCurry, came from Duchamp. It rebranded its image and completely refitted the flagship store at 97 Jermyn Street.
Harvie & Hudson has had an online business for nearly 20 years, but straight after refitting the store, they invested in a new ecomm platform from Paraspar - which is also used by White Stuff, Hotel Chocolat, Penhaligons, Dune, Crew Clothing and Sweaty Betty – for better back office integration and customer service.
The spirit of boldness extended into procurement, as the buying team - Richard Harvie and Matthew Beadle - started attending more supplier events in Europe, in particular Première Vision in Paris and Pitti Uomo in Florence. This opened their eyes to a wider range of colours – oranges, greens, reds and others - and quality available in the market. The company started commissioning more clothing from suppliers in Italy and Portugal, made in “the English way” and usually with English or Italian cloth.
What about the customer? Richard Harvie: “When we changed, we didn’t just change what we looked like - the product improved from the ground up. The customer got a better product and we got our pride back”. In parallel with Harvie & Hudson’s renewed self-confidence there has been a change in their customer demographic. Whereas the customer base was historically in the 40-year old and older age bracket, they started noticing more customers in their late twenties and thirties. These and traditional customers started to show more confidence by experimenting with some of colourful garments and accessories now available – epitomised by the ex-government minister and broadcaster Michael Portillo’s choice of coloured jackets.
In keeping with tradition, Harvie & Hudson still gets up to 10% of its revenues from its bespoke made-to-measure shirts and suits – the “jewel in its crown”. As part of its rebranding it re-designed its logo with a retro-styled font that harks back to the 1930s and 40s. At the same time, the business has benefitted hugely from the new – with the transformative effect of new technology on the management of stock, sales and the overall business.
Most gratifying for this 3rd generation of entrepreneurs is that – despite losing 75% of its physical retail footprint since 2012 - the company’s annual revenues of £3.5m are greater than 5 years ago. The online business has increased from 8% to over 20% of revenues and the business is profitable. The stage is set.
In common with other heritage brands, Harvie & Hudson has attracted overtures from would-be buyers. Although open to investment and new partners, the company has a bounce in its step and is enjoying its new momentum and organic growth potential. These are some of the elements in the Harvie & Hudson growth road map for the next 5 years:
- Expand into the wholesale clothing market.
- Retail expansion outside of London. Major cities under consideration include Manchester, Leeds, Nottingham, Cambridge and others.
- Concession space in a major retail environment.
- Retailing online through portals such as Mr Porter.
- PR and marketing push, to coincide with the 70th anniversary of their business in 2019.
Jermyn Street is world-famous for the quality of its food and wine merchants, gentlemen's outfitters and, especially, its shirt-makers. It’s a worldwide brand that compares with Savile Row. Having gone through the pain of retrenching, re-structuring and re-launching their brand, Harvie & Hudson - the only family-owned shirt-maker on Jermyn Street - is now focused on growth and leveraging the strength of both brands.
GRID co-ordinates and relationships
Sector: Apparel Retailers
Location: Jermyn Street, London SW1
Size: £3.5m annual revenues
UK and international customer base (selection from many thousands):
- Historic: Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Sir Roger Moore, Sir Laurence Olivier, Sir Rex Harrison, David Niven, Sir Peter Ustinov, Alastair Cooke, John Hurt, Sir Edward (Ted) Heath, Lady Diana….
- More recent: James Corden, Ewan McGregor, Orlando Bloom, Simon Pegg, Jarvis Cocker, Colin Firth, Hugh Grant, Ralph Fiennes, Alan Titchmarsh, Sir Paul McCartney, Sir Michael Caine, Jeremy Paxman, Ian Duncan Smith, Kenneth Clarke, John Cleese, Harry Hill, Bill Nighy, Stephen Fry, Hugh Lawrie, Joanna Lumley…
- Cegid UK - cloud services and enterprise software.
- Griffin Stone Moscrop & Co. (GSM) - Chartered Accountants.
- Meridian Corporate Finance - entrepreneurial advice to owner managers of businesses.
- Paraspar Ltd - ecommerce solutions and online marketing services.
- CHARLES TYRWHITT
- Hawes & Curtis
- Hilditch & Key
- Thomas Pink
- Turnbull & Asser
Interviewer: Ronan Bryan, Directorzone.