Business Growth: Top Tips

If the staff are trained with some basic styling skills, they get more confidence to engage with the customer

Geoff Quinn is CEO of TMLewin, the Jermyn Street shirt retailer founded in 1898. When he joined in 1980, turnover was £179,000. It’s now a nine-figure sum. The brand has opened nearly 100 UK stores and expanded into Europe, Asia and the US.

Here are his tips on growing a business.

1 It takes time

We’ve gone from £179,000 turnover to £110m. It’s taken 35 years.

2 You need a clear idea

Ours was to sell lovely quality Jermyn Street shirts at great prices.

3 The secret

For us, the whole story revolves around knowledge of the product.

4 Cut out the middlemen

We’ve spent our life doing it. Club ties were 50% of our sales, but we ordered them through a company who then placed the order. That seemed a little bit ridiculous – the company in the middle made a lot of money – so we approached a mill. They said ‘you’re a retailer, we can’t deal with you’…

5 So do the necessary

… so we opened a tie company the next week and went back. ‘We can deal with you now’, said the mill. That simple step made a huge difference to our profitability.

6 Be more than a retailer

The lesson is that we didn’t think of ourselves just as retailers but as the cost centres involved in retailing.

7 The tough times can help

In 200, we found we had a problem. We didn’t see the importance of branding and marketing. At the time, another company did a much better job of that and was bought by the Louis Vuitton group. My four little shops at the time were looking decidedly dicey. We challenged ourselves to look at pricing and started to use price as way of marketing.

8 Detail detail detail

The critical points were getting into manufacturing and understanding the detail of how you make something. It opened up a whole world of going to factories and understanding how long it takes to sew in a standard zip or put on a front placket.

9 You need a little bit of luck

We opened the fifth store in May of 2000. We planned to take £100,000 in the first month. In the first two days we took £98,000 and in the following five weeks took another £645,000.

10 But you make that luck yourself

We had an offer on our shirts and had people taking a taxi from the city to the shop itself was only 85sqm, so people were virtually queuing outside the door. That was the lightbulb moment. You need something to happen that is significant – it had only happened because we were worried about going out of business.

11 DIY

From 2001 to 2006 we opened something in the region of 35 stores.

We didn’t go to estate agents and say find me these, because though estate agents are very good, when you are investing your money that store it is incredibly important to make that right decision.

12 Position is everything

Every brand thinks they can get people to walk round the corner but the difference between being on the main street and the side street is huge.

So what we did – and I don’t know how many cups of coffee I drank – was sit outside the venues of potential stores for a day or two and look at the people who were walking past.

13 Have a formula

Because we did this prolifically we got a little card, the size of a credit card, that had the square footage, the rent, staff costs, the rates on it, so we could say ‘this will take half a million pounds, does it work?’ You could do it when you were having your coffee. By 2012 we had over a hundred stores – every single one built on a model.

14 Look for a bigger solution

We went out to China and developed the fabric there and the manufacturing in Vietnam. Again this had a huge effect on cost price and if anything the quality is better because the skills they have are better.

15 Be an optimist

I’m excited about what I see as opportunities to go to next stage and I believe that £200m sales is something we will achieve – but only if we focus on the details.

Geoff Quinn was talking as keynote speaker at the 2014 edition of Pure London