We chatted with Mike Thornthwaite, MD of Leading Labels. Leading Labels is a multi-branded clothing retailer with 25 years’ experience selling in out of town outlets across the UK and Ireland. With 18 well-established stores, it provides a range of quality branded clothing including; Weird Fish, Farah, Meyer, Ben Sherman, Wrangler, Lazy Jacks, Nomads, Tigi and Roman Original. Its large modern stores are located in shopping outlets, garden centres, department stores and other prime locations.
We discuss how Mike came to join Leading Labels, his views of fashion and retail, and what the future holds
Q. How long have you held your current job?
Mike: I qualified as a management accountant and knew that I wanted to work in a commercial environment. I worked for a number of years in ATS in their tyre operations, which, being a motor fan, I loved. However, a company reorganisation and relocation stimulated me to look for a change.
The retail market has always interested me because of its changing nature – and Leading Labels attracted me as a growing concern. I joined in 2002, becoming Financial Director in 2006, and haven’t look back – I am now involved in the business across all operations and enjoy every aspect.
Q. What attracted you to a career in retail?
Mike: I think in any career you have to love what you do and have a genuine interest in your product. My interest in retail brands started at ATS – and has continued to grow with Leading Labels and all of our fashion brands.
I love the changing dynamics of the retail industry, it doesn’t stand still and you have to keep one step ahead in the business.
Q. How do you see the future of retail?
Mike: There has definitely been a change in retail over the last few years. It’s now all about the customer experience, which means retailers are having to do things differently. It is no longer just opening the doors to a regimented box with standard fixtures and fittings and the products on display.
Today it is all about display and customer service – theatre and experience are demanded and more engagement. The merchandising has to be clever and tell a story, enticing customers in to browse – and hopefully buy.
For us at Leading Labels it means refurbishing, refitting and thinking about events in store, such as fashion shows and styling ideas. Online definitely has its place, but I think customers are starting to go back into store to ‘try and buy’ – to feel the materials and try sizes. This is certainly true for our market, maybe not so for tech items where you can compare features online and then buy at the lowest price.
Q. How can technology help?
Mike: I think technology can help retailers, but you have to pick the right technology for the job, to make sure it makes a difference. I am not a driver of new developments for tech’s sake, but if I can see benefits then I think it can add value to a business.
For example, I can see how Eurostop’s MyShoppr can really benefit a store and its customers and is definitely something we might look at. We are always mindful of the demographic of our customers when we change anything, to make sure it is right for them.
What piece of tech couldn’t you live without?
Mike: Definitely my iPhone. It’s great, I can go out of the office and still function businesswise, so I can keep an eye on things. Skype and conference calls are also really useful to keep connected. However, like all of us, I have to make sure I balance with when I do want to be offline, like on holiday.