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Neil Sansom getting his hands dirty as CEO of Woolovers

There’s a great yarn to be told about a woollen sweater retailer that’s set to jumper ahead of the competition. Okay, that’s enough, you’ve no doubt heard far too much pun-laden writing and the fact is it is not exactly clever so there will be no more of it in this piece.

Woollen uppers specialist Woolovers might just be one of the more successful retailers you’ve never heard of. It is far from big but the fact it is listed in the top 100 of The Sunday Times’ table of biggest international retailers with a turnover of £10 million gives it some credibility on the size scale. When you add in the other £10 million of sales it derives from the UK market then it is also far from being a minnow.

With this solid £20 million of total revenues, a name well below the mainstream radar, and a very basic technology infrastructure, the prospects could be pretty bright for the company as it looks for growth. Certainly Neil Sansom, CEO – who was brought in by the new private equity owners Langholm Capital thinks so – as he sets about bringing the business into the 21st century with a major overhaul of its IT.

Founded in 1989 by a husband and wife team with limited retail experience they have done a terrific job building it up from its catalogue / mail order beginnings and onto the Internet. However, the online site has not really changed since the late 1990s – even though the same platform has been stretched to also host tailored sites for seven overseas markets including the US, Australia and France.

Sansom clearly recognises a major opportunity with developing the Woolovers business – especially when you consider the amazing statistic that 50% of its sales still come via the phone. The gains to be had from shifting these sales online are significant. With this drive to grow online sales will also come more delivery options.

As part of this update to the business will be an overhaul of the brand. This will be completed ahead of Christmas when an awareness campaign will be initiated to bring in a new swathe of Woolovers customers.

Despite the significant changes now underway, Sansom is very clear about the fact the product range is not under review, with no radical changes planned to the type and style of the 10,500 SKUs typically stocked at its West Sussex headquarters and warehouse facilities.

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Shifting sales of these products online

The 40-plus age of the core customer has the disposable income to pay for quality rather than look to buy goods from competitors that have re-engineered down their products to hit lower price points in order to compete with the price-focused fast fashion specialists.

“People have sacrificed quality for price. Older customers demand quality – and good value – and we’ll look to continue to fill that gap,” suggests Sansom, who says the average basket is £50-60 and certain lines are priced around the £60-70 level although there are plenty of basics in the mix like crew and v-neck jumpers.

Although the only Woolovers store is the factory outlet that is attached to the headquarters, and Sansom confirms there are no immediate plans for further outlets, he adds: “I believe multi-channel is the future for most retailers.”

But for now he is fully focused on knitting together (oops sorry) the various components of the new technology infrastructure, which represents the future foundations for significant growth at Woolovers.

Glynn Davis, editor, Retail Insider