Celebrating its 10th anniversary, owner of Lewis Yates, Lewis Tweddell, tells Drapers how cutting back will keep the store moving forward.
Lewis Tweddell knows his customer. It may sound like an obvious prerequisite for an independent store owner, but it is a quality that has become synonymous with the Billericay-based retailer.
“Lewis knows who his customer is and shops each brand with them in mind,” says Ben Mellis, sales manager at Zone Two Agency, who has worked with Tweddell for more than five years, and represents Danish label Les Deux, which is sold in the store.
Tweddell opened Lewis Yates on High Street Billericay in 2008, aged 24, taking the name from his father’s stores launched more than 20 years before.
The store was named Best New Business at the Drapers Awards 2010, and Tweddell has spent the subsequent years building a loyal customer base that appears to be helping him defy the tough trading conditions on the high street.
“Lewis knows who his customer is and shops each brand with them in mind”
Ben Mellis, Sales Manager at Zone Two Agency
“We don’t have to rely on high footfall,” he says. “Even though we want to grow [the business] all the time, we know we’ve got that loyal customer base built up and they know they can rely on us for the experience and brand mix.”
Tweddell started the business with around six brands including Nicole Farhi, Armand Basi, Daniele Alessandrini, Mulberry and Without Prejudice. Today Lewis Yates stocks more than 40 brands across men’s and women’s wear, as well as offering a made-to-measure service.
“We definitely had a hit list of brands we wanted when we started, but now we don’t necessarily go out and buy the most on-trend pieces,” says Tweddell. “Instead we buy more classic items.”
This approach reflects Lewis Yates’ mature 30-to-40-year-old customers, who often shop as couples. Tweddell buys strong premium brands seasonally, such as Paul Smith and Belstaff, at a time when other independent retailers are holding back budget for in-season buys to maintain sell-through.
“If he’s buying something, he’s got a good idea that he’s going to do well with it,” says Zone Two Agency’s Mellis. “It’s nice to not have to worry, and he’s a trusted partner.”
Tweddell introduced a made-for-measure service in 2012, that offers custom men’s suits made in Europe by Bernhardt Fashion. He says it has “added 10% in sales over the past six years”. The venture which enables Tweddell, who measures clients himself, the opportunity to get to know them even better, accounts for 10% of turnover, and around 25% of net profit.
Suits are made in Europe by German company Bernhardt with a turnaround time of four weeks.
“We don’t necessarily go out and buy the most on-trend pieces, instead we buy more classic items.”
Lewis Tweddell, owner Lewis Yates
A mature customer base means the focus for Lewis Yates is not online. Ecommerce currently represents 20% of sales and Tweddell wants it to grow organically to support the in-store experience.
He plans to make cuts and consolidate on what is working. Tweddell declines to give turnover figures but said sales had increased by 10% in the most recent financial year, and that the company was making a profit.
“The main thing we’ve cut back on is the buying,” explains Tweddell, “I think you get to a point when you grow a business and you think you can sell more, and you just end up over buying. When I purchase now I’ve cut back to make it a bit more minimal and concentrate on the better-selling brands.”
The technique is obviously working, believes Sarah Palmer, owner of nearby womenswear store N Shelley of Billericay: “They have a lot of regular customers, capture the key trends and their shop windows are always very eye-catching.
“Lewis is always in store and certainly has his finger on the pulse.”
By focusing on the customer, streamlining the brand mix and providing a personal service, Lewis Yates provides an intelligently cautious example of how to continue to succeed through challenging times.
Lewis Yates at a glance
- Founded in Billericay, Essex, in 2008
- Stocks 40 brands. Paul Smith is the best-selling brand for men and Michael Kors accessories for women
- Launched ecommerce site in 2013
- Retail prices range from £18 for Paul Smith socks to £895 for a Belstaff parka
- Preferred trade shows: Scoop, Jacket Required and Pitti Uomo
- Won Drapers Best New Business of the Year Award in 2010