The Patterson File: National Schoolwear Centres

Having passed the 50 store mark landmark and with its first outlet established in Ireland, National Schoolwear Centres is developing new product lines to add extra income streams to an already popular business. Gordon Patterson talks to Director of Retail Operations Ian Masson

Gordon Patterson: How has business been developing in 2005 with respect to new store openings?
Ian Masson: So far 2005 has been an amazing year for National Schoolwear Centres. We've been opening new stores throughout the UK at an average rate of one every three weeks!

GP: How are franchisees performing in comparison to current trends in retail sales?
IM: Very well. Indeed, our 'like-for-like' sales are up 11 per cent compared to last year (that's comparing sales in all the stores that were trading 12 months ago with this year). There are a lot of retailers out there who would be thrilled with such positive growth.

GP: To what degree does the sales performance of franchisees depend on store location?
IM: Store location is important of course, but it's not the most important factor in determining sales. Our customers are pointed to our stores by the schools that their children attend. This is a unique feature of our business - I believe that no other retail concept can guarantee customer visits in this way.

GP: How do you feel your brand is now perceived in your sector?
IM: We are increasingly recognised and well respected as the largest retail schoolwear specialist in the UK. New franchisees are investing in a well-established brand with strong customer recognition.

GP: How does National Schoolwear Centres achieve customer satisfaction?
IM: We exist to remove the pain that parents often experience when trying to purchase schoolwear and related items. The National Schoolwear Centres service is a welcome antidote to that pain and parents constantly comment on it in our stores. Of course, schools are delighted to be rid of the pain too!

GP: How do schools view National Schoolwear Centres?
IM: We work in partnership with schools. Our support costs them nothing and frees up valuable internal resources enabling them to function more efficiently. The feedback from schools is very positive.

GP: Have there been any recent developments or innovations with respect to your product range or business system?
IM: Our long-term aim is to be a comprehensive 'One Stop Shop for Schooldays' although our current range is strongly focused on clothing and accessories. We are currently testing educational toys in six stores, we have recently launched Letts revision books and Helix geometry instruments throughout the network. We have advanced plans for more categories to deliver our big long term vision, and every new product category is additional sales for our stores.

GP: Do any franchisees own multiple stores?
IM: An increasing number, I'm pleased to say. Three of our franchisees own four franchises each, several own two and there is a number of other multiple investors in the pipeline as we speak.

GP: Do you have any re-sale opportunities available from established locations?
IM: Not at the moment.

GP: What kind of person makes the best franchisee?
IM: Someone who understands that the schools are the engine room of the business will make an excellent franchisee. This is a two-dimensional business involving school liaison and retail management side by side. That's what makes it such good fun!

GP: With your ever-increasing volume of business, do you have good supplier arrangements which benefit franchisees?
IM: We supply the unique and very popular National Schoolwear range to our franchisees. Everything else comes from carefully selected suppliers with whom we have agreed excellent trading terms for our franchisees.

GP: What kind of in-field support do you provide franchisees?
IM: We have three franchisee support managers who are field-based and work with franchisees to help them achieve their individual business plans.

GP: What are your priority areas in which you are targeting new store openings?
IM: We recently passed the 50 store landmark, so we already have good national coverage. However, there are still many 'virgin' areas in which franchisees will do very well indeed. The list of open stores is on our website at

GP: I understand that you have one store in Ireland. How is it performing and what are your objectives in the Irish market?
IM: The Galway store is a star performer in the group. It is consistently in the top five stores and does extremely well as the market in Ireland is generally so poorly served when it comes to everything for schooldays. There are strong opportunities in other areas of Ireland too.

GP: What do you want to ultimately achieve with The National Schoolwear Centres brand in the UK and Irish marketplaces?
IM: For the brand to be recognised as the automatic choice for every school, parent and child when their thoughts turn to anything schooldays-related.