Suited and booted

If you’ve always fancied running a business in the clothing industry, but are not looking to invest in a major high street brand, there are still plenty of opportunities to find a franchise in this thriving sector that could prove to be the perfect fit. Megan Dunmore reports

In contrast to the mainstream fashion brands, the smaller clothing and fashion franchises tend to offer services and products that are, quite literally, tailored to their customers’ needs.

Suit the City, for example, provides made-to-measure suits and separates to affluent, high spending shoppers. The clothing is smart and individually styled; it fits properly, is really comfortable and makes the customer feel great. Volumes are relatively low, but profit margins are high and, according to franchise owner Gordon Inglis, it’s tremendously satisfying to build a business around delivering a professional one-to-one service to appreciative customers, who love the clothes and recommend you to others.

Best of all, initial investment levels and operating costs are low. This is because the garments are made-to-measure and individually produced using top quality Savile Row fabrics, so there is no stock to hold or manage. Also, Suit the City franchise owners don’t operate from retail premises. Instead they visit customers at the home or office to advise on styling, help select fabrics and take highly accurate individual measurements. As a result, franchise owners don’t have the overheads associated with a store, so the cost of a suit is around a third of the price customers might expect to pay for bespoke.

Another factor keeping costs down is that the clothing is not traditionally hand sewn, but is produced in Suit the City’s factory in Europe.

“We absolutely don’t need our franchise owners to sew,” says Carol Rawson, Managing Director of Suit the City. “Our franchise owners need to be confident, socially skilled networkers and marketing-aware business people. Essentially, they are selling an exclusive service, but at a price that opens up a much larger marketplace.”

She adds: “There’s certainly a growing trend towards made-to-measure amongst savvy consumers – which has been extensively documented in the media and recognised by some of the larger fashion brands – people want a distinctive look and clothes that fit beautifully, at a price they can afford. Suit the City is the only bfa accredited franchise of its kind really tapping into this emerging and rapidly growing marketplace.”

Nigel Toplis, Managing Director of The ZipYard, sees this trend too and says that his franchise owners are also capitalising on the rising demand for good workmanship and personal service.

“Our franchise is all about clothing care,” Nigel explains. “We offer repairs and alterations – the concept is simple, but there’s nothing else out there quite like The ZipYard. Customers come to us for just about everything, whether it’s to repair their favourite Versace jacket, or to have a pair of Primark trousers altered to fit – whatever the requirement, our franchise owners can provide a quick, highly professional service and people love it!

"Alterations carried out by stores tend to be inconvenient and slow," he says, "while repairs provided by dry cleaners are often outsourced, so quality can be an issue."

As with Suit the City franchise owners, The ZipYard franchise owners do not sew; they are professional business people whose main role is customer liaison and development. They directly employ seamstresses to provide the actual repairs and alterations.

The ZipYard is a retail franchise. It was first launched in the UK in 2011, with the franchise growing rapidly and currently boasting 19 outlets in the network. The target is for 50-100 franchise owners in the UK within five years.

The shops are highly visible and heavily branded. Unlike dry cleaners, the emphasis is on service, with a welcoming environment, spacious fitting rooms and the seamstresses ‘on show’ to customers.

“It’s a little like the ‘open kitchen’ approach,” comments Nigel Toplis. “Customers can see that the work is done by properly trained, highly skilled people and can watch jobs being completed. Until now, the market has been very fragmented, with individuals and small players offering a localised service, or dry cleaners providing a large scale but basic service. The ZipYard, by contrast, aims to offer simple or complex alterations and high quality results on a national basis. There is a declining skills base in this country, including tailoring, yet there is an increasing demand for well made, properly fitted garments. I believe The ZipYard has captured the mood of the moment and hit on a business model that’s exactly right for the times.”

Perfection Bridal & Menswear offers franchise owners the opportunity to build a business in one of the most glamorous of clothing arenas. Managing Director James Mumford was formerly one of the UK Master Franchisors for Pronuptia; they founded Perfection after the French company ran into financial difficulties, which spelled the end for the brand in this country. Today, the Perfection franchise is fully owned by James and currently there are eight successful franchised retail outlets, mostly located in Wales and in the South of England. The franchise is looking to expand the network into the Midlands and North.

James shares the same commitment to outstanding customer service and says his franchise owners differentiate their business on this basis, relying on word of mouth recommendation for approximately 80 per cent of new leads.

“Our franchisees are required to stock the dresses we specify, simply because we can then purchase them in bulk at an advantageous rate and increase the profit margins for franchise owners,” he explains. “We involve them in the selection of the Perfections range each season, but they are also free to stock other brands too if they wish.

However, 90 per cent of dresses require some kind of alteration, which is usually handled in-house by the shops. It’s vital that the bride feels and looks perfect, of course – so although dresses range from as little as £450 up to a couple of thousand pounds, brides receive the same level of personal service, whatever their spend. It’s a very personal process and the relationship you build with your customers is special. Very often, a bride-to-be will start off buying just her dress from us, but ends up buying accessories, bridesmaid’s dresses and accessories, even hiring the groom’s outfit from us too!”

James says that the main benefit to franchise owners is the huge amount of expertise and experience in the company; both he and his wife Annette have been in the bridal business for many years.

Franchise owners receive assistance with finding the best location for their shop, help and advice on its layout and with selection of stock. Comprehensive training and ongoing support also ensures franchise owners learn to manage the seasonal demands and understand when to mark down dresses in readiness for new stock.

The cost of the franchise itself is low; however, apart from the cost of premises, there is the requirement for investment in stock – ideally around 140 dresses, plus accessories – to consider.

“It’s unreasonable to expect to make money from day one in this business,” James says. “There are good profits to be made, but it takes time to build up your customer base and start to see return on your investment. The amount of time depends on the talent and hard work of the franchise owner – we can provide an excellent business model, but ultimately success is in the hands of the individual business owner.”

For those with a bigger budget and a passion for fashion, Polish based Kazar is looking to break into the UK with its fabulous range of top quality leather shoes and handbags. Established for more than 20 years, with 50 stores in its home market, Kazar is looking to roll out the brand with franchises across Europe and the Middle East. The first franchise was launched successfully in Romania in 2013, with plans for seven more shops already underway.

According to Sebastian Lenard, New Market Development & Expansion Manager at Kazar, the Romanian franchise owner is on target to achieve around double his projected first year turnover.

“We have built an aspirational brand, which has garnered a number of coveted European awards,” he says. “Kazar footwear means real fashion, high-end design and the highest quality. It is chosen by customers, appreciated and recommended by top designers. International expansion is currently a major focus for the development of our brand and the franchise format has demonstrably been a big success.”

Sebastian confirms that the company has undertaken significant research in those countries it is targeting, including the UK: “We know that there is real demand amongst consumers for cutting edge style blended with exceptionally high quality. Therefore, we are actively seeking the right business partner to introduce our brand to the UK market and grow the business.”

Kazar shoes offers around 450 styles in a full range of sizes. The product is expensive – on average a pair of women’s shoes costs €110 – so location is important. Sebastian’s vision is for flagship stores in London and other major cities across the UK.

“We are looking for someone with a strong retail background," concludes Sebastian. "The ambition to build a thriving business on the High Street, catering to smart, stylish people, who live life to the full and can afford to buy the best quality goods available. Compared to the established global brands, the investment is not high, but for the right franchisee, we believe there is potential reap huge rewards.”