Calum Grant-Wood joined DB Apparel as UK country manager last September. Here, he talks exclusively to Sarah Blackman about how he’s settling into his new role, the recent HanesBrands takeover and his future plans for DBA’s three leading brands; Wonderbra, Playtex and Shock Absorber.
Your background is very much related to the food and drink industries. What attracted you to the intimate apparel sector?
As you rightly point out, I’ve got 20 years’ experience working mainly across the drinks industry, which seems a slightly unlikely place to come from, but in fact there’s quite a lot of similarities between the drinks industry and lingerie. That might seem a bit odd, but they’re both effectively agriculturally-based products; one’s made out of grapes, and one’s made out of cotton, silk and other things. They both have long lead times from other parts of the world, similar sorts of channels and similar sorts of commercial challenges, particularly around the branded versus own-label sort of discussions. So while it might seem a bit strange coming from that background, in fact it’s helpful for me because I’ve brought a fresh perspective to the business and look at it from a different angle. I’m certainly enjoying it, I mean it’s a very different environment to be working in, but it’s certainly been very stimulating for me.
What was it about DB Apparel in particular that caught your eye?
In all my history, I’ve worked with well-known consumer brands and it seemed to me that DBA was a fantastic portfolio of brands brought together under one umbrella, which trade in slightly different parts of the market and give a great opportunity to really grow the branded presence in the market. It was also the recent acquisition by HanesBrands bringing an injection into not only the current brand portfolio, but potentially new opportunities for new categories and a broader portfolio from the US stable.
What have you been up to in your first few months at the company?
Well, I’ve certainly been on a very steep learning curve, that’s for sure, but everyone has been very welcoming here; it’s a very friendly organisation and it’s been excellent timing really because the HanesBrands acquisition had just come through. In my second week I went over to the US with a group of people at DBA to learn more about the Hanes business, so I’ve been learning about DBA and Hanes in parallel. I’ve been really absorbing a lot of information and understanding where we are as a business; with our customers, with our various brands and how they are positioned in the market. I’ve also been getting to grips with the challenges that we’ll face in the market within the next 12 to 18 months.
What have you learned during your time at DBA and have there been any surprises?
One of the surprises I’ve had is the complexity we have because this particular category has Autumn/Winter and Spring/Summer collections. There is large amounts of activity twice a year, which causes quite a lot of stress to the business, so that was a little bit of a surprise to me – that it’s seasonally focused. It’s not as if we are selling hats and coats; clearly there are seasonal rhythms to the year, and I wasn’t expecting that.
What are your main responsibilities?
I’m here, as country manager, to obviously represent DBA in the market from a corporate perspective, but I think that most importantly I’m here to ensure we deliver what our customers and what the market needs within our own overall European branded portfolio. So I’ll be ensuring that we have the right sizes and we have the right styles colours and solutions for our customers. I’m very conscious that many of our national customers have got strong own labels, so we have to offer something different to add value as a branded supplier.
What services will you offer to add value to the customer then?
Well, you asked me about surprises, and one of the things I really want to try and work on is ensuring that the consumer really sees the benefit of trading up into a branded product. I think that we can do that by ensuring that we have high quality products, we innovate and we support our brands in different ways –with a much more tailored approach – so that we’re really offering the consumer the reason to trade up into a branded product.
What has happened since HanesBrands acquired DB Apparel and have there been many significant changes made to the company?
From a practical perspective, the only real change so far has been the movement from our old fiscal year, which was July to June, to the Hanes fiscal year, which is January to December. There’s obviously quite a lot of work required to do that. I would also say that there is a shared heritage, as you’re probably aware of; both DBA and Hanes used to be under the Sara Lee business many years ago. What Hanes is doing at the moment is discovering what things are the same as when the two companies were together, and what’s different. So they’re spending a lot of time going around the market and understanding our commercial business, as well as all of our processes, administration and IT, before any changes are made to incorporate us into the business. They’re still on a fact-finding mission at this stage.
What benefits will DBA see from this acquisition later down the line?
The main thing for us is that we’re going to be part of this much bigger organisation, so there’s the whole scale piece. Hanes purchased DB Apparel to increase their distribution across the world. We get access to the Hanes portfolio as well, so there’s not only a scale thing for the brands we are selling at the moment, but potentially there are other categories that we don’t currently work in, in the UK, which could offer us opportunities over and beyond the portfolio, so things like men’s underwear, socks and basic apparel.
Why did HanesBrands approach DB Apparel?
Hanes has a very, very strong US footprint, but their presence outside of that was very limited. So it made sense on two fronts to purchase DBA; one is that they instantly get European distribution because that is where DBA is mainly based, and secondly, the brands are the same as in the US, so there is a real synergy there in bringing that back to one global brand owner.
Playtex launched its first hosiery brand last year. How is that side of the business going?
The real benefit is that obviously it’s a new thing for us in the UK, but we have got a well established hosiery business in France, so we had a lot of lessons from the French business that we could use, so we knew which sort of styles were likely to do well. I have to say, it’s been very well received; we’ve had very positive feedback from both customers and consumers and particularly around some of the innovation. We’ve got a style called 24hr Soft, which has got an innovative waistband and we set up a challenge for bloggers and anyone else to wear the product for up to 24 hours and give their feedback on how comfortable it was. I don’t think we had many people who did the full 24 hours – I think it was dawn to dusk mainly! Across the range there have been two or three styles that have significantly outperformed, but generally across the range, we’ve had positive feedback and we’re now in discussion with a number of national customers. So far, the range has mainly be launched across our network of smaller customers.
What plans do you have for the DBA brands over the next couple of seasons?
We’ve got some really exciting things coming up. On Playtex, we’ve got an exciting new national partnership, which we’re hopefully going to announce shortly. We’re really going to be focused on how a well-fitting bra is key to a woman’s self confidence, and that’s going to be focused primarily on comfort and support. But, from a Playtex perspective, it also means that, with innovation, a bra can be pretty as well, so by being comfortable and supportive doesn’t mean it has to be a boring-looking bra – it can actually be attractive. So I think this will really help to refocus everyone on Playtex and further improve our visibility in the market.
With Wonderbra, Ultimate Strapless continues to be the best-selling strapless branded bra out there and the lace variety has added to the range. What we’re looking to do over the next six to 12 months is to really build on the success of this by adding to the range and really getting Wonderbra to the visibility and great sales that it had a few years ago. I think we’ve got some good plans in place to get us in that direction. Wonderbra, quite understandably, became focused on the solutions, so whether it was strapless or plunge or multi-way. But, what we’re looking to do is build the fun back into it again – it’s not just about push up and it’s not just about solutions; it’s about building the range around that.
Shock Absorber is another great brand to have in our portfolio. It’s market leading, selling everything from the basic gym bra through to the ultimate Run bra for triathletes. For us, it’s really about continuing to build on the success of Shock Absorber in the market. From a product perspective, it’s about providing some seasonal colours and variety to the various ranges, but I think now that the sports bra market seems to be developing, I think there is an increasing awareness from women who do exercise that having a good quality sports bra is incredibly important. I think that message is getting through and you only have to look at the media to see how much focus is on it, especially at this time of year, when people a thinking about getting fit after the Christmas holidays. What I think we need, as a market leader, is to guide consumers through the buying process to say what level of support they need – is it the softer gym bra for occasional activities down at the gym? Or do they need a highly-technical triathlete level of support? I think it’s about guiding people through what the different levels of support mean and what the advantages are of each of them.
How do you intend to get these key messages across to the consumer?
Part of it is through the packaging and ensuring that the communication is clear, but one of the things that we’re really passionate about here is the fitting, and whilst a sports bra is not the same as lingerie in terms of the cup sizes, it’s important that when the fitting is done, the person who is doing the fitting talks to the consumer about what options there are, so that they have the best information to make a buying decision. We will continue to work very closely with retailers – small and large – who have bricks and mortar stores because their point of difference is that they can offer that fitting service and it’s so incredibly important that the fitting is right. This is where I think the smaller stores can offer that more intimate service that larger operations either can’t because they’re only internet based, or don’t have the capacity to because they don’t have sufficient staff.