The Tidemans reflect on 30 years in the fashion retail industry.
Retail power couple Chris and Teresa Tideman met 30 years ago at Burton Group, and have been married for 27 years. Chris began at Hepworths (now Next) in the 1970s; headhunted by Burton Group, he rose to be group services and development sector CEO, then moved to Sydney in 1994 as CEO of Australian department store David Jones. He was a trustee of Retail Trust from 2007 to 2014, and was previously chairman of the British Association of Barbershop Singers. He now runs consultancy group Tideman Associates alongside Teresa. Teresa started at Burton Group as an allocator, and later went to Australia with Chris as fashion director at David Jones. She worked for Disney Store Europe for 16 years, eventually as joint MD. She was CEO of Jacques Vert Group for two years until 2015, and is a non-executive director of French luxury group ST Dupont. She was recently appointed president of retail networking group the Twenty Club and has worked with numerous charities. Drapers joins them for a discussion about career highs, the seismic changes they’ve seen in the industry and Burton Group as a ‘university of retail’ in the 1980s.
Teresa Tideman: Chris, remind us how you started in fashion.
Chris Tideman: I finished university in Leeds, having studied economics, and was offered five jobs – I was a lucky boy. One was in retail with Hepworths, or Happy Heppy’s, as we knew it then.
TT: We met in London when we were both working for Burton Group. How did you come to be there?
CT: In 1975 I was headhunted to join Burton (the brand) as buying and merchandising director. By 1978 we had set up the London office, which was next door to the Beatles and their studio.
TT: Yes, we used to bump into Paul McCartney in the lifts. George Martin’s studio was above the office.
CT: How did you end up working for Burton?
Photographer: Tobias Lewis Thomas
TT: Pure chance. Someone told me they were setting up a London office and I went to a speculative interview. I had always known I wanted to go into business, but hadn’t really known what that meant. But on the first day of working at Burton, I knew I’d found what business was going to be for me, and I’ve loved it ever since. I don’t think there’s a lot of knowledge about the careers you can have in retail – people assume it’s just about working in the stores. I think there’s a lot more that can be done to promote what is a really super industry.
CT: When we joined Burton Group, it was a wonderful ‘university’ for people in retail. Everyone learned their trade, and the whole place moved very quickly.
TT: That was before a lot of the transformation in the industry. Fast fashion wasn’t there. I remember Next launching, and around that time you launched Principles, didn’t you?
CT: I started Principles For Men because we were looking at the segmentation of the market and the development of brands aimed directly at specific parts of the market. In the 1950s, young men wore suits on Friday night. It wasn’t until the late 1960s that jeans and casualwear started to take over. What do you think some of the big industry changes have been since then?
TT: Online was the next major transformation. It was not that long ago that shops were shut on one weekday afternoon and there was no shopping on Sundays. In a relatively short time we’ve gone from limited access to the opposite extreme. If you want to be successful now, you have to give the customer what they want, when they want it. How do you feel seeing the speed of these changes?
CT: At Burton Group we were taught that, if things were going to change, you rolled with it, rather than resisting. At David Jones in Australia, I can recall being questioned at a board meeting in the 1990s about the expenditure in the budget for building a website. There were directors around at the time who thought it was wasting the company’s money. Having come from an environment where we were constantly looking for what was new, we were perfectly happy to get cracking.
TT: When we left in 1994, I’d spent 14 years with Burton Group, but you’d been there longer, hadn’t you?
CT: That’s right – since 1975.
If things were going to change, you rolled with it, rather than resisting
TT: When we decided to live together, I moved from Burton to Dorothy Perkins. It was quite unusual then for people to move from men’s to women’s. It’s a shame more people don’t do what I did. They have different approaches to buying and merchandising. When you fuse the two together, you get a really good mix. After Dorothy Perkins, I went to Topman as buying and merchandising director, then to Principles, and then we went to Australia until 1997. It was a wonderful time, but you wanted a change when you came back, didn’t you?
CT: Arriving back in the UK, I was in a position to give back and help others. I have worked with Retail Trust and the Thackray Medical Museum, and I chaired the British Association of Barbershop Singers. Then we formed Tideman Associates and it’s the first time we’ve worked together directly since Burton in the mid-1980s. You took a different route when we got back, didn’t you?
TT: Yes, working for Burton Group was as good as it got in terms of working for an exciting, amazing business that stretched and enabled you. But out of the blue I got a call from the Walt Disney Company, which was looking to set up a team to drive European expansion of the Disney Store. I went to LA and met Roy Disney, the nephew of Walt Disney. I remember saying: ‘Tell me about the Disney Store: what is it that you’re looking for?’ He said: ‘My dear, it’s about bringing the Disney magic to people’s everyday lives – do you think you can do that for me?’ I’ll never forget that. More recently, I was the CEO of the Jacques Vert Group. It was nice to come back to fashion; I came full circle. We’ve both spent our careers in retail – what are your favourite things about the fashion industry?
CT: It’s always been the speed and the people: there are always people out there thinking laterally and fast. It’s unpredictable, which keeps the brain going.
TT: That was what struck me on my first day at Burton. That’s the fun: you have to keep pace with the thinking.
CT: I remember, on a Thursday in 1978, the instruction came from on high that we needed a company conference at Burton in a week’s time. That conference took place the following Thursday, and it was seamless. That was the mental attitude. The impossible was just done; you didn’t think twice about it.
TT: Nothing was a problem. Everything is achievable – if you believe that, it’s just a case of finding a way to do it.
Everything is achievable – if you believe that, it’s just a case of finding a way to do it
CT: That was the fun, and that was the challenge. Do you still see that attitude in the industry?
TT: I think the fact that there’s a lot more automation, while positive in some ways, is perhaps taking away some of the entrepreneurial spirit. Back to our training – people wanted to do things. We were driven, we were excited, we wanted to do the right thing. Through all that time, what do you see as your biggest career achievement?
CT: It’s happened in three different phases. At Hepworths, I bought 129,000 pairs of Crimplene trousers and sold them at £7.19s.6d [£7.98]. The typical price was about £4 less, but I marked hardly any down. I always take that as an achievement in product terms. Next was energising the casualwear business at Burton. We got to the stage where we were selling enough jeans every fortnight to put a pair on each of a full crowd at Wembley. The third one was leading the team that ran the trade sale and float of David Jones in 1995. It was extraordinarily difficult, very pressured, and getting it away successfully was good. What about you, Mrs T?
TT: Well, do you know who Tick-Tock is? He’s the crocodile in [the Disney version of] Peter Pan. We sold a lot of h toys in the Disney Store, but our Tick-Tock didn’t have a sound. They all said it couldn’t be done. But I worked with really great buying and sourcing teams, and we put the tick-tock into Tick-Tock. I’ve still got one, haven’t I? It is wonderful.
CT: You have indeed. It’s under the TV in the kitchen.
TT: And now we’re working together as Tideman Associates. So how have you found working together again?
CT: The huge advantage is that both of us have been through good times and bad times. We both have knowledge of different sectors, and we understand when the other has a problem. It doesn’t mean I could tell you the answer. But we’re there to talk about it.
TT: I think that’s probably been one of the biggest advantages of being married to someone in the same industry: you understand the pressures.
CT: Another wonderful aspect is that retail brings you into with all levels of people. You have to understand your customer. If you happen to be running a young men’s fashion chain, you have to know what those youngsters are thinking and feeling. If you are also the CEO of a business, you have to understand what’s happening everywhere. I used to find out more about what was going on in the company by going down to the loading bay and having a chat with the warehouse men.
TT: That’s such a good point. It goes back to how much the industry has changed. Much as people are surprised to know this, there hasn’t always been email. By talking to someone in the technical services department, or in shipping, you find out what’s going on, and you’re never going to find that out through email. I think we’re going to look back and realise that what is happening now is the digital revolution – it will be written in history as one of the most revolutionary times. It has had an impact on everything, and it will continue to do so. Everything is changing, and I’m not sure people realise quite what is happening just yet.