Khaki specialist Dockers led the revolution in dress-down Fridays in the late 1980’s and is now positioning itself as the daily workwear brand of choice among thirtysomethings who no longer wear a suit any day of the week.
After distributing its casual wear manual to HR departments after the financial crisis of 1987 Levi’s-owned Dockers found a receptive audience from companies who felt one day a week of casual wear was a benefit they could give to their employees for no cost.
Francisco Gonzales-Meza Hoffmann, general manager for Dockers Europe, says it was the fastest brand to reach $1 billion in revenues as its position as an innovative disruptor rather than a fashion brand brought it great success between 1986 and 1997.
But in the intervening years he admits the brand lost its way and is now looking to regain its position in the market. “There have been new entrants enter the market – including Gap in 1988/89 – and we diversified into golf and womenswear, but we did not have a point of view, particularly in the US,” he says.
Hoffmann was recruited to head up the turnaround of Dockers in Europe in 2016 where it was regarded as a stronger player than in the US because 75% is sold direct to the consumer through its own stores and online whereas in the US sales are mainly generated through wholesale with large retailers who are very much struggling.
“We went back to understand the brand. There is still a strong connection to work but today people have an average of 3.7 jobs in their first decade of work and it is also more about values. It’s not just about working to pay the rent,” says Hoffmann.
The mindset of the core 30-35-year-old male Dockers customer is about entrepreneurship and having a desire for emotional value in brands, which means it’s about products that last rather than getting two pairs for £30.
As well as sponsoring a variety of individuals and causes that chimed with this thinking Hoffmann says the strategy was focused around some key tenets. These comprised: product innovation – with new flexible materials developed; a simple sizing system; and simplifying the offer to customers including an uncomplicated pricing structure.
This translated into a conversion rate from trying-to-buying in-store of an impressive 80%. And many customers would frequently buy multiple colours in that transaction. With this “easy in, easy out” proposition in place Hoffmann says Dockers returned to TV advertising in 2017 – the first time it had used the medium in 10 years. This has all combined to deliver double-digit growth over the last two years in Europe.
Although the UK market predominantly comprises wholesale – just like in the US – around 80% of these sales go through Zalando and Amazon, which are channels that are putting in a “great performance”. This has not deterred the company from looking to open physical stores in the UK, which would replicate the situation in Dockers’ key European markets of Spain, France and Turkey.
The benefits of being part of the Levi’s group is that Dockers has the capability to experiment with pop-ups in existing Levi’s stores and this is the plan for the UK. “We’re developing a retail concept and in the UK it will be a pop-up. We’re converting a Levi’s store to test it. We’ll refine the model and then we can expand it out. We’re making the investment,” says Hoffmann.
Glynn Davis, editor, Retail Insider