Rapid growth for the Sunice, Tommy Hilfiger Golf and AUR brands in Europe over the past three years seemed to catch Fletcher Europe’s head office in Montreal off balance, but as the brands faced becoming victims of their own success, new investment came in just in time. Jonathan Camp, managing director of Fletcher Europe, spoke exclusively to Robin Barwick
What is the new ownership situation of Fletcher Europe?
The company changed hands to a private investor in December, and the new multi-million dollar investment is going to provide the platform we need to take the business forward again. Before then, the Fletcher Leisure Group had taken on quite extensive expansion plans, and the growth of the business had out-stripped its funding capability. This caused some financial difficulties.
How did Fletcher Europe’s growth out-strip its funding?
The supply chain was one of the issues we faced. The golf apparel business is about the ability to deliver product to the customer on time. We endured some serious issues on that front, but now we can combine our great product and design on one side, with the new operational platform that has been provided by our investor. It is really a match made in heaven and it is going to allow us to get it right.
What can we expect from Tommy Hilfiger for Autumn-Winter?
Autumn presents only a small seasonal opportunity, but for the first time we are producing a specific European Tommy Hilfiger Collection.
Europe has a different design and styling concept than North America, and the weather conditions in Europe are more diverse than they are in the United States, where a larger proportion of golf is played in fair weather. So we have adapted accordingly, and we have produced a Tommy Technical line, featuring the benefits of technical, functional fabrics and design that the keen golfer wants to wear, and then a Tommy Lifestyle line, which is cotton-based and incorporates styling for on-course and off-course wear. Tommy Lifestyle reflects the brand image that has made Tommy Hilfiger so successful in the first place.
Where are Tommy Hilfiger Golf sales strongest?
This is one of the reasons it was decided to produce a very focused European line: European sales of Tommy Hilfiger Golf are double what they are in North America. The Hilfiger brand is particularly strong in mainland Europe and in Scandinavia, where people really resonate with the brand and they are looking to wear it. Now we need to get the same perception across to consumers in the UK and Irish markets.
Where can we expect to see Tommy Hilfiger stocked this year?
Hilfiger is very much a green-grass brand, and as the brand is becoming better recognised through consumer advertising, more green grass opportunities are developing. We are preferred suppliers to the buying groups in the UK – with Foremost and TGI – and also with groups in Spain and in France, and we are looking to establish buying group agreements in Scandinavia, Germany and Austria over the next year.
What can we expect from Sunice for Autumn-Winter?
We have a very strong Sunice range and we are fortunate to hold the Gore license, which boosts the consumer perception of the brand. Sunice does not only offer a range of fabrications to meet every golfer’s need, but it also fits every golfer’s budget. Core golfers who play regularly, and no matter what the weather throws at them, often go for our GoreTex products and our fantastic FlexVent technology. Typhoon is for the regular player who needs reliable waterproof protection, and then we have lightweight windshirts, which might suit occasional golfers.
There is more Sunice apparel to complement the outerwear too, so we have a range of products and prices that tick all the boxes, while keeping the line quite concise. You can offer too much product and confuse customers.
We also have AUR, which is a reasonably priced golf-authentic brand, for golfers looking for an alternative to the sportswear giants. We tested AUR in European markets last year, and one of the biggest successes was the appreciation of AUR’s ladies collection, which out-sold men’s apparel by three-to-one. So we have worked a bit harder on the men’s collection, and for Spring 2015 we will have a product line that will appeal to a lot of people, and we will start to see the fruition of AUR in Europe.
Are Tommy and Sunice stronger with men or women?
Unless you are a specific ladies’ brand, I would estimate that 85% of apparel business is men’s, and 15% ladies. Up until Spring 2014 though, 32% of Sunice overall sales were for ladies’, and 34% with Tommy Hilfiger. We were quite surprised at first, but those figures have been consistent over the past two years. Women buy Tommy because they already have an association with it, because the product looks good and they like the fit, and it’s golfwear that can be worn off the course.
With Sunice, the vibrant colours and fit are very important, and they work very well for us. The ladies’ market is key.
What percentage of European sales are online?
Over 25% of our total sales are now online, and it is very important that we have a multi-channel presence.
Across the brands, Fletcher Europe looks well equipped for Autumn-Winter.
There has never been an issue with the quality and consumer appeal of the product in any way, shape or form, and it is easily merchandised and looks great in store. Inherent problems with distribution have now been resolved and we are now building upon a very strong platform.