Three years ago, Naturana UK was a sleeping giant, failing to reach its full potential. But thanks to a huge team effort, it’s now woken up to huge opportunities in the industry.
Over its 100-year history, Naturana has built a reputation for being a trusted supplier of comfortable and affordable lingerie and corsetry.
It has grown from being a small business, manufacturing everyday garments from its factory in Germaringen, Germany, to an international company, delivering products to over 50 countries.
In the UK, Naturana’s range of bras and bodies have become best-sellers in the soft-cup, non-wired market place since the brand opened offices in Lichfield, Staffordshire in 1963.
But, by the beginning of the 2010, business had slowed in Britain due to poor in-store visibility, a lack of order fulfilment, tired offices and out-dated imagery.
Naturana UK had the potential to become a powerhouse in the intimate apparel industry. If only somebody could awaken its senses.
Enter Tom Kavanagh, a former sales manager at Speedo International and Puma UK. He was appointed in 2012 as Naturana’s UK sales and marketing director to develop new business opportunities and manage partnerships with key customers, and he’s certainly lived up to the role.
Over the last three years, Kavanagh has made small, but smart changes to the business, resulting in a 22% rise in sales.
“It was just a bit of a sleeping giant that needed shaking about a bit. That’s all. And that’s what we’ve done,” he explains.
“I think when you come into a business like this with another set of eyes, it’s amazing what you see that other people take for granted.”
Kavanagh started at Naturana UK with a five-year plan to establish new avenues for the brand and to expand its market share.
“I’m a strategic person and it’s important that the staff here come on a journey with me and know exactly what we’re trying to achieve. You can’t do it on the back of a fag packet,” he says.
“In year one, I sat and listened to people and found out what was good and what was bad about the business. I had to learn and understand the lingerie market, because I’d come from a sports background.
“So I talked to everybody, assessed the staff, built good relationships internally and externally and sorted out the stock issues we had.”
According to Kavanagh, Naturana was missing out on thousands of pounds worth of sales due to unfulfilled orders.
“What was happening at the end of every month is that we were having what we call remains on the system, which showed that people had placed orders in good faith, but we weren’t fulfilling them. We weren’t fulfilling about £20,000 worth of orders every month,” reflects Kavanagh.
“We’ve done a tremendous amount of work on addressing that issue, and going forward, we’ll need have more meetings over Skype with our headquarters in Germany to make sure we get it right.”
Kavanagh’s biggest concern for Naturana when he joined was its lack of visibility in physical stores.
“If you can’t find a brand in store, it’s poor, and I couldn’t find it,” he says, shaking his head. “That is not the case now and most people would agree. If you speak to AIS members and one or two of our other retailers, they would say that we have done a lot of work in that area.”
“My key focus is to constantly look at raising the brand profile in store and online,” Kavanagh adds.
“We have new merchandising units – free-hanging and boxed – which will go into stores this year. We also have a branded light box that we can change every year if we want to.”
In his second year in the business, Kavanagh reassessed and reviewed the brand profile in store and online. He also introduced job descriptions and annual appraisals, which hadn’t existed before.
In addition, he helped raise brand awareness by solidifying Naturana UK’s relationship with Susan Czarny Public Relations, brought in an independent photographer to reshoot its collections for a new catalogue and refreshed its website.
“Our imagery has massively improved,” says Kavanagh. “Germany has also focused on improving campaign imagery and they are getting much, much better.”
“I would like to make the point that without the support from our German head office, none of the progress that we have achieved would have been possible,” he adds.
Location, location, location
It was always Kavanagh’s plan to move Naturana UK out of its old Lichfield office, and in December 2015, he finally got his wish.
“When I joined, I looked at the office environment and I wasn’t very impressed. It had no showroom, which was embarrassing,” he says.
“Years ago, there were over 150 people working there because they were manufacturing garments. So it served a purpose, but recently, it was falling apart.”
Naturana UK’s sales, marketing and accounts team is now based in a modern building in Sutton Coldfield.
Its purpose-built showroom allows the brand to showcase its entire collection, from core essentials to fashion ranges, which have also expanded in the last three years, to current and potential customers.
“The showroom is a warm and comfortable environment for buyers and sales staff alike, and we expect our forward order book to result in great growth in accordance with the investment that’s gone into the new building,” says Kavanagh.
Naturana has closed its UK distribution centre and all orders are now distributed directly from Germany, except those going to online retailer JD Williams.
But Kavanagh explained that the company has invested heavily in warehouse staff and utilities at its German factory, to ensure orders are delivered on time.
“Our delivery credibility has been really good in the last couple of years and we don’t want that to fall off in any way,” he adds.
Return to growth
All of these changes have resulted in a 22% rise in UK sales over the last three years, with last year’s sales climbing 6.5%.
Naturana’s swimwear business has fared particularly well, growing 28% the first quarter of 2015, compared to same period in 2014.
This growth has been driven by the introduction of order cut-off dates.
“In previous years, we were taking orders and not really promising when customers would get it, which was totally unprofessional and unacceptable,” says Kavanagh.
“Now, if customers want the product by January they have to order by June and if they want it by February they have to order by July. It’s worked.”
Sales in Naturana’s corsetry range also soared in 2015 when pin-up model October Divine became the face of the brand.
Divine’s presence opened up a new customer demographic to the label, generating interest in its vintage collection, which makes up 30% of the business.
Naturana found that the trend for ‘all things vintage’ has made its customers look at its traditional corsetry range from a new angle and buy styles that they may not have considered stocking before.
The brand has also attracted younger consumers to its fashion-forward range, Cybele. The collection includes padded and non-padded underwired styles featuring bright colours, touches of lace and fashionable prints.
Alongside this, Naturana’s luxury brand, Eva, has relaunched for AW16. Using quality fabrics and rich colour combinations, the collection promises to be Eva’s most powerful yet.
Each selection offers a full range of styles to suit different body shapes, including fuller-cup, soft and underwired lace bras, alongside high-waist briefs, boy shorts, panties and thongs.
Commenting on the launch, Kavanagh says: “We are very excited about the new Eva collection, which we believe has been more clearly defined in order to appeal to the UK’s highly competitive fashion-focussed lingerie market.”
But as Naturana attracts new business with fashion-forward collections, Kavanagh insists that the company won’t forget about its everyday lingerie offering, which makes up 60% of the business.
“Our core essentials range is the bread and butter of the business and I don’t want to lose sight of that.”
Looking ahead, Naturana UK plans to expand its retail presence at home and abroad.
Firstly, the brand has formed a partnership with iconic fashion retailer M&Co. It has launched online at mandco.com on a long-term basis, after a successful trial period in November.
Kavanagh hopes that the constant measuring of sell-through will eventually lead to store roll out.
“We are confident that this very exciting partnership will continue to develop as they look at adding more of our styles to their collection following positive early sales,” he adds.
Naturana is also in talks with Dubai-based lingerie retailer Nayomi, whose new head of buying is Laura Carr, the former buyer at TJ Hughes.
“Although they have a lot of high street fashion products, they do quite well with their core essentials. Laura knows Naturana and our soft-cup range, so we sent her about 15 samples and she has presented them to their buying director, who liked the product. We’re in negotiations with them at the moment,” says Kavanagh.
The changes Kavanagh and his team have made to Naturana UK have had a positive effect on sales, business morale and customer satisfaction.
But the sales and marketing director insists that there is still room for improvement. “You’re only as good as your last year,” he says. “My great philosophy is that if you keep on doing the same old things, then you get the same old results, and that’s no good.”