Mark Maidment has been part of Ben Sherman’s inner circle for almost 13 years.
Having served as Creative Director since 2005, Maidment stepped in as CEO in April 2013 and has since managed both roles simultaneously. His understanding of the brand has seen it turn a corner, leaving the recent struggles behind. Fusion Associates caught up with Maidment to learn about his brave rebranding strategies and future plans.
You stepped in as CEO in April 2012 and still serve as creative director. What developments have taken place since your dual role began? My chief aim has been to work on the brand strategy. When we went about revamping the brand in 2010, the higher-end Plectrum range was introduced as well as the more affordable line British Wardrobe Staples. We have since established that these additions confused the consumer; hence, we have simplified the business, focusing on one brand offering labelled Ben Sherman. We are proud to be an originator of shirts and celebrate our history while at the same time present something new. The Plectrum range demonstrated that we were moving forward, but Ben Sherman is not quite ready to branch out with too many lines.
How did you arrive at the conclusion that segmentation did not work in Ben Sherman’s favour? When speaking to our resident shirt expert in the Carnaby Street store, we noticed a pattern; customers would come in asking to try on shirts but when presented with a segmented collection, they invariably replied, “But I just want a Ben Sherman shirt.” This simple statement told us a lot. Not only had we confused our customers, but the higher price point also gave rise to different brand aspirations within the company. It’s imperative that people understand what the brand is about, both internally and externally.
What other issues did you identify in your recent re-evaluation of the brand? Pricing had become too high. We have always prided ourselves on being an accessible brand and we started to lose sight of our identity with the introduction of the higher priced shirts, which retailed for £65-£100. We are an iconic British shirt maker offering well-designed product at affordable prices – I wanted to emphasise this above all else. The average retail price of a shirt is now £50-80. It’s clear that the customer appreciates the simplification, and so do our wholesale partners. Since the one-brand message and DNA-strong product went into store for SS14, we have seen double-digit % growth in our own retail stores and our wholesale performance has been much stronger.
How would you define Ben Sherman new identity?Ben Sherman belongs to the heritage camp, but it also strives forward. We’ve tried to find a balance between these two qualities by not focusing too heavily on either but to combine heritage and newness in an effortless, convincing way.
A new Ben Sherman flagship opened on London’s Long Acre in November 2014. Please tell us about the concept. Stretching over two floor across 4,000 sq.ft.; the new space is our largest one to date. Once again we’ve teamed up with Brinkworth Design, the creative brains behind the retail concept we launched in 2011. Key features include sandblasted brickwork and white bevelled-edged tiling. The “shirt bar” is a key component, and we’ve continued the partnership with Sharps Barber by setting up a four- seat barber-shop downstairs. To add another layer to the in-store experience, we’re showing film content on large LCD screens in a bid to develop our digital prowess and at the same time educate consumers about the brand.
Which are your strongest markets, and what ones are you planning to enter next? Ben Sherman is currently stocked in 24 countries. Instead of embarking on an aggressive expansion plan, we’ve decided to invest in markets that we are familiar with and already do well within, such as the UK, Germany, Belgium and France. We’re also enjoying growth in Italy and Scandinavia. The US is also important and we’ve partnered with major department stores such as Nordstrom as well as a string of indies. We have a designated US team, which is headed by Vice President of sales, Rich Devilla, who previously worked at Lacoste. We haven’t yet established a presence in markets such as China, Japan or South America; we are talking to people in those territories but there is no rush and we want to make sure we have a solid plan before entering uncharted territory.
What measures are you taking to maintain Ben Sherman’s position on the market? We’ll keep advancing by boosting our retail footprint. Retail is such an important part of the company. Scott Wakefield joined us as Global retail director 18 months ago and has had a huge impact on our retail business. He used to work at Calvin Klein Europe and will no doubt help us continue to build Ben Sherman’s retail future. Meanwhile, we have good strategic relationships with our wholesale partners and we’ll continue to nurture these. The E-commerce side of the business is growing well and it presents us with lost of opportunity to build the brand.
How do you go about engaging with consumers online? We recently launched the campaign Button Up. This little styling tweak is instantly recognisable as a Ben Sherman detail. As part of this initiative, we invited customers to send pictures of themselves wearing their Ben Sherman shirts buttoned up. The tagline is “we button up, do you?”. It’s a simple idea but I believe we’ve got it right – it has developed into something of a concept, symbolising the British identity of the brand and its smart yet urban aesthetic.