Charles Tyrwhitt sales plunged last year, but CEO hopeful of rebound
The founder of shirts-to-suits specialist Charles Tyrwhitt said business “literally fell off a cliff” last year as stores were forced to close, consumers reined-in their spending and working from home meant his core products stayed on the rails.
But he’s optimistic that consumers will retain the desire to dress up and that delayed events like weddings could boom later this year.
Nick Wheeler told The Times in an interview: “I thought it was a good, solid business and it will always work and suddenly, the day came in March when the unbelievable thing happened and everyone stopped going to work. We had a lot to do very quickly.”
It meant the company cutting a quarter of its 1,000 staff and closing four of its 42 stores for good while getting rent holidays and rent cuts on the others.
He also took a bank loan, something he’d been unwilling to do for most of the firm’s history as he does’t like debt.
And he said the company made a loss for the year to July, a disappointment after the previous year had seen underlying profits of £11 million. Pre-pandemic, turnover had been £189 million, but Wheeler didn’t give a figure for the period since then. However, he said that the lifting of restrictions before the summer due to the fast vaccine rollout could mean the company breaking even this year.
“People still like to dress up and I suspect - well, hopefully - there will be twice the number of weddings,” he told the newspaper.
During the crisis period, the company hasn’t been able to ride the loungewear trend due to its core formal offer. But it has been expanding its casual wear offer, which makes sense because, even with a weddings boom, the general trend is towards dressing down.
The priority in the last year has been survival rather than expansion. “I feel a bit like a boxer, where he just gets battered and bruised, big time. The important thing is to still be standing at the end,” he said. “If you've got your business right and you set it up right … a lot of retailers will come out of this very strong and leaping and bounding into the future.”
His survival focus has affected decision-making around potential growth opportunities. Wheeler’s company had been seen as a possible bidder for failed rival TM Lewin, but he pulled out of the running saying buying it would be “quite high risk”.
“The big thing we worried about was they had a lot of stores. And [closing them] is not something I wanted to do ... it’s not very nice,” he explained. However, the company that bought TM Lewin eded up closing all of its stores.
The CEO also said he felt sympathy for landlords and that criticism of them as being “greedy” was unfair: “Landlords are the same as any other business. They've got commitments, they've probably got borrowings and they've got interest to pay and they need the rent, otherwise, they're going to go into debt.”
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