David Reiss: Top retailer is well suited to the high street buzz

He is coming up to 65 but he is planning to expand, not sell up. By James Thompson
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"As soon as the alarm goes off, I am jumping up with a level of excitement because I never know what the day holds," says David Reiss, who took over his father's business when he died in 1973.

Anyone who has met Mr Reiss, 64, will testify that his enthusiasm and energy are genuine.

His energy has helped to grow Reiss into a 95-store operation. It has 75 standalone UK stores, including four accessories outlets, 10 shops in the US, three in the United Arab Emirates and three in Hong Kong, as well as stores in Paris, Stockholm, Malaysia and Dublin. Next month Reiss will open a franchise store in Beijing.

After a shower, he has a quick breakfast of tea, bread and yoghurt, then takes the short drive in his Bentley Continental from his home in Hampstead to the West End. In the car, the fervent Arsenal supporter listens to Talk Sport.

Reiss moved into a £40m new head office, with a flagship store downstairs, near Bond Street Tube station this year. The office is open plan and a hubbub of activity with clothes and fabrics hung up and scattered around.


Mr Reiss logs on to his computer to check the previous day's figures. Around 8.30am, he has a chat with his retail operations director and finance director.

"Meetings for me are very short – just get to the point and then react on it," he says.

Asked about current trade, Mr Reiss is surprisingly bullish, given that many retailers are suffering the harshest conditions since the early 1990s. He says that Reiss has delivered "double-digit" like-for-likes sales increases in August, driven by an enhanced emphasis on design and luxury garments in its autumn collection. "In these challenging times, we are making sure that if there is a slight increase in price there is an enhancement in the luxury of it. We are classified as affordable luxury."


Meetings begin, first with the head of menswear and womenswear, "getting an update on how the collection is going and going through any day-to-day issues." Reiss lines are also sold in the department stores Selfridges, Harvey Nichols and John Lewis. Mr Reiss has had approaches about selling the business but says now is not the time, just two years into a five-year plan to have 250 stores globally. Last year, Reiss was approached by a multibillion dollar company that wanted to open 200 Reiss stores in the US. "We are a very sexy business with enormous growth potential," says Mr Reiss.


Mr Reiss has a meeting with the new brand director, Andy Rogers, who was previously the designer Stella McCartney's right-hand man. An hour later, he hooks up with the merchandise director to discuss next season's fashion collection.

However, Mr Reiss is keen to stress that he spends a lot of time walking around the office speaking to different departments. "I have always been very hands-on with key departments and the hub of the business," he says.


He has a bit of lunch with one of his buyers, who brought in sandwiches from Marks & Spencer, although he stresses this is a brief affair while chatting away. "Once you are in the heart of a meeting you don't stop and reconvene. It is that level of intensity that everyone in the building is fired up."


A meeting with the store architect. "We are opening lots of stores. There are so many things going on around the world." This week, Reiss opened a store in Miami, Florida, and Mr Reiss is regularly on the phone in the evening to the US retail operations director.

Between 3pm and 4pm, he nips into the store behind the office. "If I have a spare hour, I pop out to visit the store to make sure I am happy with the product and that the brand is going forward. If there is anything I am not happy with I immediatelylet people know."


Mr Reiss meets his finance director to discuss figures and "plans for the future", although he doesn't elaborate. This is followed by a chat with the head of retail operations about how the day's sales are going.

In the year to 31 January 2007, Reiss made an operating profit of £9.1m, and is on track to hit sales of £100m this current financial year.

At present, there is a lot of activity around reappraising quantities and orders for the spring and summer collection next year, which includes contracts with other retailers. For instance, Reiss has signed a contract with the online fashion specialist Asos to sell its clothes on the site. Mr Reiss says: "Asos has put down some very big orders for spring/summer and we get approached all the time from people who want to do tie-ups with us." Reiss only started selling womenswear in 2000, but it now accounts for 70 per cent of sales.

Around 6.30pm, he starts to wind down and has his final meeting with the finance director.

7.30 pm

He arrives home after a 17-minute drive. Mr Reiss typically eats out three nights a week, but often in the evening he spends time talking to Reiss's retail operations director in the US, which may involve calls at 11pm.

While he is at an age when most people are picking up their pension, Mr Reiss shows no immediate signs of losing the retail bug. "The one thing about retail is that businesses can go up and down in a very short space of time. It is the excitement of pushing the brand forward," he says.

Out of the office

After his family and the eponymous business, David Reiss's other great passion is sport. He is a dyed-in-the wool Arsenal supporter, plays tennis and golf, and runs five miles around Hampstead twice a week. Mr Reiss is amember of Arsenal's exclusive Diamond Club, where the Michelin-starred chef Raymond Blanc, cooks at the Emirates Stadium's restaurant. However, he is honest enough to confess watching arch-rival Manchester United's game last Monday with Portsmouth onSky Sports, and other teams.

"Supporting Arsenal is a big release for me. I have always been interested in sport," says Mr Reiss, although he admits his golf is nothing to shout about.

Perhaps because of his hectic lifestyle, he is not massively into reading books, but likes to read a wide variety of magazines, such as GQ, Management Today and Forbes. He lives with his wife in Hampstead. His youngest daughter works in the brand department at Reiss in the US, and his son is adirector at HSBC. He may come in useful if David Reiss decides to sell or float the chain.