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here is a chatty buzz emanating fron

the team of10 at Love Brands' 1,900


sq ft showroom at Metropolitan Wharl
on the bank of the Thames in Wappir.rg,

east London. Sitting at a long table


under low ceilings surrounded by clothing rails and
a bookcase of shoes are the agency's founders,
Michael Shalders and Hugo Deane, who are leading
a growing retail disrribution empire.
Love Brands combines distribution - ,,about g 5 %,,,
explains Shalders - with retail and wholesale consul-

tancy, and a B2B sales platform. After increasing


% yearon yearin 2015, when
it was named Drapers Independents Awards Agency
ofthe Year, Love Brands is now looking at expansion
into European markets while maintaining its original
focus: making business enjoyable and professional,
and being "tough when you need to be tough,,.
The pair met in London in 2008 at Dutch fashion
brand Mexx, where Deane was UK country manager

turnoverbyalmost 65

and Shalders was its UK agent. After Deane,s position


was made redundantin March 2010, the two started
to discuss the idea ofLove Brands. Their combination

ofnational and international knowledge, 20 years of


experience each - Shalders in wholesale for Saint
Tropez and Desigual, Deane in franchising at Mexx
ar-rd Esprit- and industryknow-howbrought a distinctive USP to the brand agency model.
Now in its sixth year of business, and with more
than 600 UK and Irish stockists - mostly independents, but also department stores and online - Love
Brands began with Spanish casualwear brand Custo
Barcelona in 2010. Today it represents 12 brands,
including Danish womenswearlabel NU Denmark,
UK footwear brand Terry de Havilland, Dutch young
fashion label Circle of Trust, and the newly signed
Italian mainstream women's and men's wear label
Stefanel. Online sales represent around 1 5 % ofthe
total, says Deane, "but always in a complementary
way to our wholesale channels".
Talking about the cross-border reach ofthe business, Shalders says: "We had a lot ofrelevant contacts
[internationally], and I knewa lot ofsales and fellow
distributors - probably more than I know in the UI(.
"[Today] we're dealing with Denmark, Sweden
and the Netherlands. We've just started dealing with
Germany. Some brands - it could be a UI( brand that
doesn't know howto do Europe because ofthe currencies, credit limits and all the practicalities - would
rather have one distributor looking after six markets
than six different distributors."

Because oftheir past exposure to European brands


in all facets ofretail, Love Brands can offer a wide
range of services to its customers in five countries
(soon to be sevenwith Norwayand Spain). On top
core distribution, the agencyhelps with

of

stafftraining,

findingretail locations and properry, in-store promotions, window displays and bespoke visuals.
Its dedicated team ofsales administrators at the
Wapping showroom act as a conduit between retailers
and brands. They pick up all the day-to-day queries
so the retailer has.just one point ofcontact, here in
the UK, for all the brands it represents.
Love Brands also has a B2B wholesale e-shop that

allows registered retailers to see live stock levels,

/ l)r.apcrs

ra

MAY 27-luNE 3

zoro

THE DRAPERS INTERVIEW LOVE BRANDS

reorder and request replenishment top-ups 24/7.

"We offer more than iust names or distribution,"


says Deane. "Ifyou have a retail platform, ifyou're
looking to do concessions, ifyou're looking to find
franchise partners, we know how to
do that, too. We want to say to our
partners, to the brands that we'd
sourced, 'We can offer you guys
a multichannel business."'
tT

wAs THESE VALUE-ADD services that

led Love Brands to clinch

a key

UK sales

and distribution accountforspring 17: the

200m (d156m) Italian fourth-generation


famiiy-owned mainstream women's and men's
wear brand Stefanel.
"You start dealing with a certain level ofbrands
and that opens the door to more brands in that
arena. It's been little steps for us," says Deane.
Now, having a retailer stock two orthree oftheir
brands is typical:the duo pride themselves on being
a "one-stop shop" to view collections. And they do
not accept a mark-up ofless than 2.8 from retailers.
"Old school" face-to-face contact is crucial too,
says Deane: "we believe it's really important for
the sales guys to get out oftheir bubble and to have
a look to see what's happening, to find out what the
competition is, and to go and meet people. Unlike
the digital world, we live in the real world, and we
actually talk to people and shake hands - you have
to trust each other, don't you? We think long-term
sustainable relationships."
Ann Aarestrup Larsen, global sales manager at
NU Denmark, say ofthe supportive pair: "They are
always good-humoured, always at the fairs, and
working with the brand."
Despite waning attendance at some trade shows,
both men see them as necessarynetlvorking events.
Deane says: "We see [attending trade shows] as
important. It's incredibly expensive for all concemed
to put on those shows. There's a huge commitment
and investment. If I owned a shop, I would like to get
out and just see ifwhat I'm doing is right, and if I'm
missing anJ,thing, to talk to other retailers. Trade
shows are the bestway of doingthat."
Shalders quips: "If someone comes up with an
alternative, they'd be a very wealthy person! "
While face-to-face contact is a must for Love
Brands' relationships to thrive, the digital world also
piays a big part.

"You can't ignore technology," says Deane. "You


can't ignore progress. You have to embrace it, but
at the same time, hopefully influence it."
"We started quite early with Custo Barcelona,"
explains Shalders. "We helped itwith its retail presence in Westfield Stratford City and, at the same
time, with an opening at House of Fraser online,
which was massively expanding its presence. It put
a lot ofresources into it and was really very clear
about making House ofFraser a destination online.
It partnered with some really good people, and
invested in technology. We gained a lot of experience

duringthattime."

a digital platform orwhen dealingwith bricksand-mortar shops, Deane believes: "You have to be

On

u l)rrrpcls / MAY 27JUNE 3 2016

"Drapers put us on the


map by articulatingwhatwe
do as a business. Brands like

that and take note,"

says

Deane. "As a result of that

we've really started to


engage with really strong
international brands."
honest and open: about the prices, the

margins that we work on. We try to


make the brand feel comfortable from
the beginning. We sit down and agree on a strategy,
agree on a target, agree on the growth ofa brand, so
that no one is disappointed because it hasn't been
discussed. There are different facets to launching a
product in the UK." And if it goes wrong?

"When things go wrong - and nothing's perfect

you have to be able to put your hands up and say,'Let's


see

howwecanfixthistogether,"' says Deane. "The

whole conversation is very open, and we have that

conversation before we even start selling their


product. Obviously numbers are very important to
any brand when it launches, and collections are
expensive. It's spending money on marketing, and
it's a refurnoninvestment.lt's the same forus. Everybody needs to be realistic about what's achievable."

'ASYOU GROW [as a business], you've gotto make


(([In
sure thatyoukeepupwith it," Deane continues.
January] we hired a sales support managerto come
on board to strengthen customer service, to really
get that right. We also have a freelance PR - she
workswithusinhouse. Shepromotes specificbrands

and our brand with digital, e-flyers, showroom


invites and trade show invites."
Love Brands has also partnered with fashion
industry software provider I.Level to create I.Level
Mobile. The programme, they explain, "allows
agents to place orders on or offiine and sync back to
Love Brands headquarters. The order can also
be emailed directly to the client, and agents
can see live stock levels and the status oftheir
orders, including what's been shipped to give realtime info."
Winning the Drapers Independents Award last
year has helped Love Brands to upscale.

As part of the judging


process, the award was
subiect to an online vote. In
picking the winner, judges noted Love Brands'
"strong marketing" and "excellent approach to
nationwide retailers".
"You listen to actors who win awards given byfellow

actors," says Shalders. "It's quite nice to know that


what we're doing, we're doingproperly by our peers."
On the future of Love Brands, Deane says: "We're
always open and looking to expand our brand proposition where it makes strategic sense, Iike taking a
product that has something extra to give.
"We want to extend to different sectors, too,"
adds Shalders. "We've recently gone into footwear,
lingerie and accessories, like the Mighty Purse - a
wearable-tech fashion bag that has a lithium battery
to charge your mobile phone.
"We're quite interested in developing relationships with iconic British brands, as well as expanding
into other markets. We are also keen on seeing how
our digital platform develops for our brand, just
offering a little bit of extra service, not to replace
face to face, but to complement it."
Despite the advent ofsuch futuristic products as
phone-charging bags, Love Brands abides by a few
important - albeit "old school"-type -values: transparency, face-to-face contact, ambition and drive.

Shalders and Deane complete each other's


sentences - they agree to agree. They are "people
people". When asked about the history behind the

name Love Brands, Deane says: "I think that was


your idea, Michael," Shalders nods, "we had a business plan, we knew what we were going to do."
Deane continues, "Andwe love whatwe do, and we
knew people would love our brand," With a look
back at his business partner and friend, Shalders
finishes the thought: "It just kind ofstuck."