Shirtmaker sees global success from ‘old-fashioned values’; Top-notch customer service helped Nick Wheeler grow Charles Tyrwhitt, the online shirt and suit retailer, into a £160m-turnover business

Shirtmaker sees global success from ‘old-fashioned values’
Top-notch customer service helped Nick Wheeler grow Charles Tyrwhitt, the online shirt and suit retailer, into a £160m-turnover business

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Nick Wheeler, founder of shirtmaker Charles Tyrwhitt, has grown his business 25pc year-on-year for 25 years. Photo: Copyright Alex Rumford.
By Rebecca Burn-Callander, Enterprise Editor
7:00AM GMT 19 Mar 2014Nick Wheeler has been running Charles Tyrwhitt for more than 25 years. He has survived two recessions, one administration and grown his online shirtmaker into an international £160m-turnover business.
There’s no secret to his success, he claims, other than a rigid adherence to “old-fashioned values”.

Customer service has been key. “You think of internet businesses as remote and online but the phone is still so important. Customers don’t want to go through long, tortuous email processes, they still want to pick up the phone and talk to someone immediately.”
Charles Tyrwhitt’s call centre has grown at the same rate as the business: around 25pc year on year. “We take it very seriously,” Wheeler said.
To build trust in a crowded market, he uses a service called Feefo to stream live consumer reviews to the website homepage. It’s a “warts and all” overview of all the feedback that the business receives – and has been instrumental in growing the company’s customer base.
“About 98pc of people say that we are either excellent or good,” he says. “Comments say, ‘Posted two minutes ago’ so you know how old they are. Customers can also filter comments to see all the bad reviews. We have no right to edit but we do have the right to reply, so customers can see how we respond.”
To date, more than 260,000 people have given feedback. That figure rises to more than 400,000 if you include the German, American and Australian sites.
This strategy has been quite risky, says Wheeler, but has helped him to keep customer service levels high. “It’s not like Tripadvisor, where one hotel owner in Llandrinio, Wales, will write lots of negative things about the hotel up the road,” he says. “There’s no question marks about the veracity of the comments.”
Alongside the usual “free delivery” and “free returns” options, Charles Tyrwhitt’s products come with a six-month guarantee. “I have a policy that if someone doesn’t like a shirt, I don’t want them to keep it. Otherwise every time they see the shirt in their wardrobe they’ll think something negative about us.”
As well as the online shops in the UK, US, Germany and Australia, there are 23 Charles Tyrwhitt stores around the world. These are showrooms for the firm’s extensive product range.
“There are so many complicating factors about shirts,” Wheeler explains. “There are different fits, from extra slim to classic; there’s the double or single cuff, sleeve lengths, pocket or no pocket. If customers want to see a product before they buy it, they can.”
Nevertheless, 75pc of sales are generated online. This is down to the extensive variety that Charles Tyrwhitt can offer through the online store. “We have more than 1m shirts in stock in our Milton Keynes base,” says Wheeler. “There’s no way we could hold all those combinations in a shop. By being online, we can offer an off-the-peg shirt at a discounted price.”
Men have worn ill-fitting shirts for decades, he explains. “One 50-year-old customer with long arms had never found a shirt that fitted him before he bought a shirt from us. Men seem to just walk into M&S and pick the right collar size and have done with it.”
Once Charles Tyrwhitt’s customers find the right shirt, however, they tend to come back again and again. “Men aren’t keen shoppers so if they find something they like, they stick to it.”
Wheeler was just 21 when he started his company. “I sourced fabric from Lancashire, and had the shirts made in Essex,” he recalls. “It was a tiny little business back then, more of a hobby really.”
Now, the business employs 750 people and his shirts are sold all over the world. Each international market has its own nuance: “In Australia, they prefer short-sleeved shirts because of the climate,” he says. “They are also slightly slimmer.”
Classic British formal wear goes down particularly well in the US. “We sell a lot of casual shirts over here but the Americans love dressing up with ties and a double cuff. When we do our brochures over there we accentuate the Englishness. If we did that in the UK they would think we were naff.”
Wheeler is a fan of the slow and steady growth model. Sudden expansion would put too much strain on the supply chain, and quality would be affected, he says.
However, the focus is gradually moving to the US. “There are shirt companies over there doing billions of dollars in sales,” Wheeler says. “It may sound rather boring but I find that the more I focus on fewer things, the better the business does.”
Wheeler is opening a Charles Tyrwhitt store in New York next year to help establish a foothold in a lucrative market. “We may sound like a sleepy little business,” he says. “But when we do something, we do it really well.”
Charles Tyrwhitt is one of The London Stock Exchange’s 1,000 Companies to Inspire Britain

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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