EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Boux Avenue's Theo Paphitis

Boux Avenue opened a flagship store on London’s Oxford Street last month and Lingerie Insight was first in the queue to interview business owner Theo Paphitis about his thoughts on joining one of the world’s busiest high streets. In a Q&A with Sarah Clarke, he also discusses property prices, competition, the Living Wage and every retailer’s bugbear – business rates.

Congratulations! How do you feel about opening a flagship store on Oxford Street?
It’s great. For any retail business, Oxford Street is the pinnacle of retail. There is such a demand for a space on Oxford Street and it was really hard to get here. Eventually, we found a store and we’ve been able to make it work for us in terms of design. When you look at it, it’s slightly different to our other stores, but it still epitomises what Boux’s all about.

How long did it take to secure the site?
It took forever. I mean I started shaving when we started, but we got there eventually. We’ve been looking for the last two years.

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Property prices are high in London. How do you plan to attract the footfall to make the launch worthwhile?
Well, the whole point of being on Oxford Street and paying the huge rents is because there is footfall here. There is a huge amount of international footfall that passes through, so it’s important for us to be in the right place so our customers see us.

There’s a lot of competition in the area, with Ann Summers, Intimissimi and Bravissimo close by. Is there a need for another lingerie store on the street?
Well, Ann Summers is not really an issue for us because we don’t sell hardware and all that stuff. Boux does sexy – we don’t do sex. Everyone has their own niche area – Ann Summers is a successful business and good luck to them. Bravissimo is a very specialist brand and it’s not in our market. When we launched Boux, it was all about whether there was a market for Boux and if there wasn’t a market, we wouldn’t have launched. I say to people when they start a new business: “Make sure you’ve done your homework, otherwise you will fail”. Quite honestly, our figures show that there is a market for us. We have 28 stores in the UK, we’ve got 12 overseas stores and the prognosis of the business is good, so that must be coming from somewhere.

What do you think about the rise in the Living Wage and how will it affect Boux Avenue?
There’s no question in my mind that the decisions the government have made are theoretically correct, but I’m not pleased with the way they have implemented them. They haven’t matched the reduction in benefits to the increasing wage and that’s the only thing that’s not been right in my view. I’ve got more confidence in businesses getting it right than the government getting it right, so we’re going to have to be more productive. I know from my business’ perspective that it will add a huge amount to our payroll and if we’re going remain prosperous, profitable and be there to employ people, we need to make sure that we’re efficient and more productive.

What are your views on the current business rates system? Should local councils be allowed to manage funds directly?
Yes they should, but I think local councils have been responsible for some of the worst decision making as far as high streets and planning are concerned, ever. So we know how good they are at running businesses – they’re appalling. Local councils have got to get real – if they want a thriving high street and they want employment and they want leisure activities, then they have got to put the infrastructure in and create the atmosphere that leads to success in all those areas.

Boux Avenue has recorded a huge amount of growth in a short space of time. How have you been able to achieve this?
By doing our homework to begin with, or we’d be gone. Fifty percent of small businesses fail in the first two years of opening and the majority of the time it’s because they haven’t done their homework. So we knew what the customer wanted, what was expected from us, what we needed to deliver, how we needed to deliver it and how long it would be before we got to the stage where we were a profitable business and we could expand internationally. These are all things that we took into account.

Have you made any mistakes during your time in the lingerie industry that you regret?
I’ve made loads of mistakes, absolutely stacks of mistakes, and anybody who says they don’t make mistakes in business is either a liar or they have never made a decision in their life. I don’t regret my mistakes though – they are learning processes. Some of them have been expensive and some of them have been less expensive, but it’s all part of it.

Where would you like to open your next store?
Well, in the UK we said we’d only open 25 and we’re already at 28, so the reality is we’ll probably open another handful of stores here. Boux Avenue is a three-legged business – UK stores, international stores and ecommerce. When we launched it, that’s how we described it. We’ve now realised that we could probably open a few more stores than we envisaged, make sure we’ve got the right coverage, and then the rest is done online. So we’ll probably open a few more shops in the UK and then it’s all about international growth.

Where do you plan to open new stores internationally?
I can’t tell you. Everywhere. Where we can find the right partners and where we think, after doing our homework, its right for
the brand.

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