EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: New R&P MD Sharon Teasdale

Much has happened since Van de Velde bought a majority stake in iconic British retailer Rigby & Peller in August. But, the best is definitely still to come. New MD Sharon Teasdale talks to Kat Slowe about what is next for the swimwear and lingerie company.

I am the new managing director at Rigby & Peller,” says Sharon Teasdale. “It’s brilliant. I have dreamed of this point. Nip me. Nip me quick. Is this a dream?”

Teasdale joined Rigby & Peller two years ago, having previously worked at high street fashion retailer GAP – where a decade earlier she won a major prize for taking business risks – and beauty giant UNILEVER.

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Her role at Rigby & Peller to date has included helping in the lead up to the sale of a majority stake in the business to Belgian intimate apparel group Van de Velde, a deal which was concluded in August, 2011.

Under the new ownership, Rigby & Peller has already opened its first international store in Dusseldorf. Further stores are expected to open overseas, this year, and a series of the company’s existing UK stores are also being re-furbished.

David Kenton remains non-executive director of Rigby & Peller and founder June Kenton continues to play a significant role in the business.

Teasdale added: “It’s like having my own personal advisor. She’s just an icon to me… I would like to continue the inspiration that Mrs. Kenton has brought to the business, but I would like to evolve the business to attract new customers.”

The new managing director is currently embroiled in a series of schemes to do just that. These include a series of international and domestic store launches, and the expansion of the current Rigby & Peller product line.

There will be two further stores opening outside of the UK, this month, one in Berlin and one in Barcelona.

The company is also set to open a new store in London, in the City. It will be located close to One New Change on a ‘niche, cobbled’ street, called Bow Lane.

It took months of research to select the area, but Teasdale is now fully convinced the business has found the perfect spot.

“Some of the ladies we interviewed in the City were already Rigby & Peller shoppers,” she says. “They said, ‘we just have don’t time to go to the store, because we are in the office from Monday to Friday and on the weekend we don’t really want to head back into central London.’

“So, I asked the question, ‘what would you say if I said we were going to open a store in the City?’ And, I got cards saying, ‘thank you, it would be so fantastic to have you round the corner from the office.’ And, I just thought, this is unique. This doesn’t really happen in retail, usually.”

By September, Rigby & Peller will also have a store in Guildford, Surrey. This will complete the retailer’s expansion strategy for the year. Teasdale is determined not to develop too rapidly and risk damaging the integrity of the brand name.

Yet, it is not only on the retail side that Rigby & Peller is looking to expand. The company currently owns a small, capsule, own label brand. Van de Velde has approved investment in own label development and it will be the job of Nicky Clayton, the company’s creative director, to build up the retailer’s own label product offering in the coming months.

“We began the journey of own label development,” says Teasdale, “but it does need massive investment. We also need the expertise of a manufacturing company like Van de Velde to support that.”

Currently, the own label brand is only featured in Rigby & Peller’s UK stores, but it is set to enter the company’s European stores within the year. At this time, there are no plans to make the collection available to other retailers, but Teasdale does not completely rule out selling the products through other stores in the future.

“Will we get there in five plus years?” she asks. “Maybe. But, our strategy right now is let’s supply our own businesses and we can go from there.”

Part of that concentration on own retail has been reflected in the recent refurbishment of Rigby & Peller’s Knightsbridge and Conduit stores. This programme is being continued with the re-modelling of the retailer’s shopping centre outlets at Westfield and Bluewater, where Rigby & Peller is introducing an entirely new merchandising concept.

The new model aims to appeal to a younger demographic. The typical Rigby & Peller customer is over forty, but the shopping centres tend to appeal to a more youthful clientele.

“These young independent women, they want to be able to see, touch and feel, and understand what Rigby & Peller has to offer straight away,” says Teasdale.

“We have created this new store set up – made to measure for us – that will allow the customer to self select and see a wider range of our product. Rigby & Peller, we have got jewels in these drawers, so many products that the customer does not see straight away and, actually, may never see.”

In five years time, Teasdale hopes that Rigby & Peller will have a global presence and an increased own label offering. However, no matter how big the business gets, she is determined that the fundamental experience will remain the same.

The new managing director believes that the superior service, private appointments and personal lingerie stylist are part of what distinguishes Rigby & Peller from the high street. And, her customers apparently agree.

Teasdale says: “We have heard women say that their back aches have gone, that their husband noticed their chest which they hadn’t noticed for some time, that their confidence feels better…

“Rigby & Peller changes lives. It has certainly changed mine.”

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