6 May 2013 Interview

Susanne Given, Superdry

SuperGroup’s chief operating officer Susanne Given explains how the Superdry fashion brand has overcome its growing pains and is targeting global expansion.

“We have a strong international presence and awareness – but the ambition for us is to become a truly global brand within the next five years.” Susanne Given, chief operating officer of SuperGroup, doesn’t hold back when asked to talk about the potential of the Cheltenham-based fashion retailer.

Even though its distinctive youth fashion brand Superdry is already sold in more than 100 countries worldwide, through a mixture of wholly owned stores, its websites, franchises and concessions, Given believes there are many more opportunities for the ten-year old label. “An international brand has a sporadic presence in a variety of countries,” she says. “Global brands – whether Ralph Lauren or Apple – are recognisable wherever you go; they have global awareness.”

Despite the eurozone crisis, Europe is a particular target for the company. SuperGroup invited consultancy firm Bain to help it develop a European growth strategy and recently hired Hans Schmitt, a former Hugo Boss executive, as its managing director of international and wholesale. “We’re coming off a low base, but we’re delivering fantastic growth in all our European territories because we’re establishing the brand and taking market share,” explains Given.

Company factfile: Superdry

Founded: 1985

Headquarters: Cheltenham

Turnover: £360.1m

Own stores: 113

Franchise stores: 144

In November 2012, SuperGroup opened a store in Oberhausen, Germany – its first directly owned store in the country and the first on the continent to follow its preferred UK store format, with a large footprint of 5,000 sq ft.

“That has proved very successful and we arenow pursuing other sites in Germany of a similar calibre,” Given says. The company will also open its first UK-format, owned store in France later this year. “Historically in Europe we’ve had smaller, boutique-sized retail outlets. Now we’re going to take a very different approach and go for the big lifestyle proposition.”

But flexibility is the watchword of the company’s strategy – there will still be franchise stores in smaller towns and locations. It also has a US partner “in the early stages of developing the brand over there”. And in India, it has gone into partnership with a division of Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries; Given says that further such arrangements are in the pipeline elsewhere in Asia.

Capacity problems

SuperGroup recently announced turnover of £360.1m for the year to April 2013, a rise of 14.7 per cent. And it has certainly come a long way since chief executive Julian Dunkerton and design director James Holder created the Superdry brand, which combines American, Japanese and British elements, for his Cult Clothing store chain in 2003.

Yet this growth has been accompanied by some significant growing pains, particularly since its flotation in 2010. In October 2011, it issued a profit warning after problems with a new IT system at its distribution centre led to stock shortages in its UK stores. A range of other issues then resulted in a further two profit warnings over the subsequent seven months.

Given says the company’s “exponential” growth had outpaced the capability of its systems. “When you’re a young, entrepreneurial business that over-indexes on product creation and selling, and perhaps has a slight knowledge and experience gap in some of the operational competencies such as logistics and IT, you can get into a bit of deep water and not realise when you run out of capacity. That’s what happened to us.”

But she says the company is now back on track after what Dunkerton recently called “a year of consolidation”. It has brought in new management expertise: Given arrived from John Lewis in April 2012, while a new CFO and heads of IT and logistics have also been recruited.

And Given explains that over the past 12 months, they’ve strengthened “the systems and foundations that we have to give us stability. Now we are increasing those foundations to support growth over the coming five years.”

That means future-proofing systems so that they can support what she terms “the shift to three dimensional retailing”, as rising customer expectations and the move to online and mobile channels place more pressure on retailers’ fulfilment processes. “Good enough is not good enough any more; you have to look ahead and try to anticipate what the consumer is going to do next.”

Online is growing fast, she adds (internet revenues made up ten per cent of total group sales in 2012), but is “just one of several important channels”.

So far, the signs are promising: SuperGroup’s like-for-like retail sales rose five per cent in the quarter to April; Given says its outerwear range helped it during the bad weather that made it an “interesting spring” for fashion retailers in general.

The coming financial year will see SuperGroup opening stores in the UK and overseas, both to plug gaps in certain markets and, more opportunistically, to move some existing stores to larger, better located sites vacated by retailers that have gone into administration, such as HMV and Republic.

“There are so many opportunities,” concludes Given. “The important development for us as a business is that we want to be a lifestyle brand. And that requires having a certain size of store.”


SuperGroup timeline

1985: Julian Dunkerton co-founds Cult Clothing and opens a store in Cheltenham; further stores are subsequently opened around the UK.

2003: Dunkerton joins forces with designer James Holder (founder of the Bench brand) to create Superdry, a new in-house brand.

2004: Superdry is launched as a second store format.

March 2010: Business floats on the London Stock Exchange.

October 2011: SuperGroup issues profit warning following problems with IT stock system; two further such warnings follow in the next seven months.

December 2012: Rebrands its 20 Cult Clothing stores as Superdry.

May 2013: Announces annual group sales of £360.1m for 2012/13, up 14.7 per cent