INTERVIEW: Hunkemöller CEO Philip Mountford

The face of Hunkemöller, Doutzen Kroes, pictured with Philip Mountford in Berlin.

Dutch lingerie retailer Hunkemöller has entered the UK with bold ambitions to dominate the market and the rest of Europe. In an interview with Lingerie Insight, CEO Philip Mountford lays out his vision.

Hunkemöller, the biggest lingerie retailer in Northern Europe, has landed in the UK with an ecommerce platform and bold plans to fend off competition on the high street.

The Dutch brand, which already operates 800 stores in 20 territories and has quadrupled its sales in seven years, launched its UK site last month and intends to open physical stores here in the future.

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Speaking in Berlin at a press event which marked former Victoria’s Secret model Doutzen Kroes as the new face of the brand, CEO Philip Mountford spoke to Lingerie Insight about his vision for the company.

Hunkemöller was launched 130 years ago. What is the secret of its longevity?
It’s about reinventing yourself. One of our policies is we don’t talk about age, only because our customer is aged between 18 and 29 and we’re all about having relevant fashion product for that consumer. If you’re 18 years old, you’re not worried about how old we are – you’re just worried about whether you are buying from a cool lingerie brand.

We have been owned by three equity companies – KKR sold us to PAI and PAI sold us to Carlyle. Seven years ago, KKR was good enough to give me a white piece of paper and say, “Philip, we’ve got a business that isn’t moving – it’s regressing and we want it to be transformed”, and I was lucky enough to create a dream. We started off with the customer, which I think most customers don’t – they start off with a product and say “you need to buy it”. What we said is “we’ve got a customer; let’s provide her with something she wants”.

We interviewed 39,000 of our customers and created a persona called Shero. We asked her what she wants, how does she want it, where does she want to shop and how does she want to be looked after. On the back of that, we created our whole content strategy. Starting with the customer is quite unique and not many CEOs have that opportunity.

Why did you decide to launch a website the UK and where do you see yourselves sitting within the market?
We see it as a great opportunity. It’s quite a unique feat for us because it’s the first time we’ve launched a platform in a country where we don’t have a physical store. We have quite a unique proposition – our USP is that we offer fashionable products in a variety of sizes, so we offer back sizes 30 to 44 and cup sizes AA to FF. You can buy a really beautiful fashionable bra from us in a 40G, at a good price. We offer Beautiful Balcony, Delicious Demi, Perfect Plunge and Fabulous Full Cup. So we look at what shape fits you and what size you are, so we can offer products to individuals in their size, in a fit that’s relevant to them.

Who are your main competitors in the UK?
Our main competitor would have to be someone like Boux Avenue.

Will you launch physical stores in the UK?
I’m sure we will launch stores eventually. The UK is on our strategic plan, but not for the next two years. When we go into a market, we go into a market seriously and don’t just go in and open a few stores. We have 500 stores in Germany, 200 stores in Holland, 120 stores in Belgium and we’ve just gone into Austria, where we will open between 70 and 100 stores. So everywhere we go, we become number one. So when we go into the UK, we will not just play around with a few stores. When we go in, we will go in to be serious.

Hunkemöller isn’t a very well-known brand in Britain. How do you plan to promote yourselves?
We will buy Google adverts and we will do affiliates and events. We are also in talks with other players that already trade in the UK, so there will be other platforms that sell our products there and our brand will become established. The UK is starved of fashionable product across a broad spectrum of sizes.

How is online performing in comparison to your physical stores?
Online is growing like-for-like at 53%.Our whole business is growing at over 6% like-for-like, on top of 9.3% last year, on top of 4.8% the year before. There are very few brands experiencing that kind of growth. Physical stores were up over 9% last year and this year they are up 3.2%.

We need a physical presence to really drive omni channel. In the UK, we have ecommerce, but our real strength is omni – so click and collect, check and reserve, order in store and return to store. We’ve got the fastest downloaded retail app so we can track you, see your shopping behaviour and target
you appropriately.

We still see a real importance for physical stores, especially in big cities, where we’re opening huge stores where we can showcase our whole offer – sports, hosiery, swimwear, designer collections etc. But these stores are always launched to make money. We don’t open these stores for the sake of it – we are a commercial business.

What are your future visions for the company?
We want to dominate all of Europe in terms of being a lingerie specialist. We see ourselves with quite a unique USP that allows us to grow globally. There are very few brands that have already quadrupled in turnover in seven years and this has probably been the hardest seven years in European retail history.

We’ve not just grown our sales, but we’ve more than quadrupled our profits. We’ll invest a lot of that into the future, so we’ll invest in people and in training. All of our training is done by video and we also have an internal app.

We’ve got 5,200 employees and 4,800 people have downloaded the app. You’ve got to remember that some people don’t have a smartphone as well, so it’s a very high percentage. The app offers live chat, job ads, visual merchandising guidelines, Q&As, product videos and fitting videos. Knowledge and training is key.

What do you think about shoppable videos? Will they be the next big thing?
We’ve been offering shoppable videos for two and a half years, but, for us, it’s only just starting to become financially viable. It’s still very slow, but we like to try things. We are not afraid to spend money on new technology; we’re already developing our third customer app.

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