Innovative Retailer – Long Tall Sally

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Name: Long Tall Sally

The Place: Well, as you’re asking so nicely there are 10 stores in the UK, five in Germany, four in the US, and seven in Canada. As well as a big online presence of course.

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The Story: Back in the mists of time, well 1976 actually, an American called Judy Rich, living in London just got so fed up.

With the rain? Nope. Try again.

With the service? No. Have another go.

With the coffee? Hopeless. With the fact that she could not find trousers to fit her five foot eleven inch frame.

Ah. Annoying: So being an American she set up a company to rectify this and then ran it for 30 years. And then she never had to slink into a male clothing shop again.

I can’t believe she had to do that! Anyway, when the whole digital thing happened, things did not go so well for Long Tall Sally.

As in… Well, they didn’t really bother. They probably thought that very tall people more than anyone else need to try the stuff on in person so the upshot was that the company went into administration.

Yikes. Well, it was nice hearing about them for two minutes anyway: But thankfully for this column, this is where things get interesting. I give you Amery Capital.

Who? Retail investment firm backed by the Bennett brothers of Phase Eight and Oasis fame, i.e. with lots of experience selling women’s fashion. And they brought Andrew Shapin in as CEO.

A man with lots of experience selling women’s fashion too, I presume: Funnily enough not. In fact he is on record as saying that before he started he could not have known less about women’s fashion, tall or otherwise, had he tried.

This is a puzzling corporate strategy. Is this the innovation – put someone in charge who knows nothing of your product? Of course not, the clever bit is to get someone in who knows all about the bit of retailing that you are failing at. And Shapin is a co-founder of the Cotswold Co. which sold furniture – online.

Aha. The plot dilutes: First thing he did was sit in on endless focus groups where tall ladies complained bitterly about pretending to be shorter than they really are, always wearing boots over too-short trousers and not having any tops that reach down to their wrists. And Shapin thought…

That’s heartbreaking, how can I alleviate this? No, he thought, kerching. There are women like this all over the world – let’s have a piece of that. Or words to that effect.

So they expanded: A shopping spree began. And before long in the US the company had acquired the slightly Hugh Hefner-sounding Tall Elegant Legs and several other North American competitors, as well as shoe stockist Barefoot Tess.

Do tall women have big feet too? Yes. Up to size 13.

Size 13 shoes for women! That’s not even a thing: Is so. And you have inadvertently stumbled on one of the problems of being a niche retailer – there is absolutely nothing connecting this worldwide group of women apart from their height.

So? So, some very tall women would think it was stupid to wear heels when they already tower above colleagues, for example, while others want the full look including kitten heels. Some will be grandmothers, some will be teens. Most retailers would be lost if their customer base ranged across three generations – where is the sweet spot?

Don’t ask me: It was rhetorical. Long Tall Sally’s core customer is between 25 and 55! That’s a vast range to cater for. They have to be everything to everyone by default.

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But on the other hand… Correct, most tall women the world over are not catered for at all and even Long Tall Sally only has shops in four countries across the planet so the online and store potential is enormous.

And are they now making the most of it? Yes ma’am. Long Tall Sally has catapulted itself from a UK-only, bricks and mortar retailer with turnover of £10 million to an international, online-tastic venture with sales of £50 million in less time than it takes to print a 3D mannequin based on a real customer.

Can we do the last bit again? Sorry. Back to the core consumer again. The company has a new innovation – helping with clothing design in-house in London is a helpful mannequin whose dimensions and body shape are based on thousands of measurements taken from one 6ft tall Harriet Winters and then 3D printed.

That’s good. Especially for Harriet Winters – she never has to try on anything ever again. She already knows it fits! But in the midst of all this newness, we have to bid goodbye to Amery Capital.

Parting is such sweet sorrow: But don’t worry because in August 2016 they sold it to TriStyle for £30 million. And the thing about TriStyle is they’re German.

And? And the thing about German women is…they’re tall. Average fraulein height in Deutschland is five foot six inches, quite a bit taller than the US for example.

Kerching? Oh yes. I think expansion in Germany is a given.

Talking of money how does the revenue break down? A whopping 70% is online and the company ships to 120 countries so in a bizarre turnaround it is now physical shops that are the area where there is room for growth.

I wonder where the very tallest women are? Well, I can tell you. Holland – a nation of Amazons at five foot seven inches on average.

Crikey. Harriet Winters appearing in Amsterdam soon then: I shouldn’t wonder. Spread the happiness. A lot of tall women find clothes shopping upsetting and dispiriting. Long Tall Sally, despite having a name that no modern brand agency would ever come up with, has done a lot to alleviate that and has made some money along the way.

#TallerAndStronger – to borrow one of the company’s marketing slogans. Quite so.

PCMS is a global provider of IT software and services for the retail industry. PCMS offers a full-range of integrated commerce solutions across selling touch points and also provides turnkey managed services and cloud hosting. Its client list includes John Lewis, Marks & Spencer, Waitrose, Whole Foods, as well as Walgreens in the US and fashion brands including Prada and Ferragamo across Europe.

 

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