Dragon takes the plunge into lingerie

Theo Paphitis tells Laura Chesters why he is making a second foray into the women's underwear sector

Theo Paphitis has nicknamed his mirrored Maybach 62 Mercedes-Benz the "chromobile". "You can put your lipstick on looking into it," he says.

So proud is he of it that he parked it outside Sketch in Mayfair when he hired the club for the launch of his latest business venture – a lingerie chain called Boux Avenue.

The chrome-plated vehicle that Paphitis created for Red Nose Day earlier this year is typical of the flash Cyprus-born businessman who has risen to fame after building various retail businesses and his appearances on The Dragons' Den and publishing his book Enter the Dragon.

But sitting in the head off ice of Ryman, his stationery business, in Wimbledon, the flashiness is much more toned down. Paphitis's office is nondescript and hidden away in the corner on the second floor of the slightly shabby office block.

Despite the glamorous lifestyle, Paphitis is surprisingly down to earth. He runs Ryman from this low-key office as well as Boux Avenue.

Paphitis is a self-made man – his first business venture was starting a tuck shop at school. After stints in insurance at Lloyds of London and working as a salesman in Watches of Switzerland on Bond Street, he progressed to a finance broker and specialised in company turnarounds.

"But this isn't work. This is what I love," he emphasises. He doesn't differentiate life from work. "This is seven days a week. I start when I get up before 7am and I work until 9pm."

He spends a day a week in the office and the rest of the time is running the various areas within Ryman and Boux. He is also co-owner of the gift experience business Red Letter Days. He runs between checking ranges, looking at stores, meeting buyers, suppliers and, of course, his publicity appearances.

So, for someone with so much experience in the retail sector – he has been doing it for more than 20 years – why has he set up a business selling knickers to British women who are notorious for not spending much on their undies, in one of the toughest consumer slumps in living memory?

"We knew we were launching this in a volatile climate. I have never been a trailblazer. I haven't been the first to do anything. But when I bought Ryman people told me about the paperless office and warned me about the future of stationery shops. But I vehemently disagreed."

Paphitis stands up, walks to the door and touches the wooden frame. "I am superstitious," he explains. "I thought there was an opportunity and so far I have been right."

But Paphitis predicts change is coming for the high street. "We are in an incredible momentous time. Of course we are going to see change. I see it is like a new industrial revolution. But this isn't happening over 100 years. It is happening over 10 years and the clock has already started."

Boux Avenue has been trading for just over two months and has six shops and a fully functioning website.

Paphitis chose lingerie as he knew the sector from owning La Senza. He famously bought the brand for "a pound and two packets of Benson & Hedges", sold it for £100m, and then tried to buy it back again from private equity owners Lion Capital. His bid did not succeed so he set up his own version from scratch, creating a website where shoppers can have their embroidered plunge bra delivered at home.

The prices are in the mid point of the high street – £28 for bras and £12 for knickers – but Paphitis says the difference is in the service. The Boux Avenue name was created from meeting a "dazzling French girl named Boux" while the Avenue part was inspired by New York. He says: "Boux is an internet business but with shop windows – the stores. Everything is about the experience. The stores are sensual like a boudoir. Sexy but not sex."

The UK lingerie market is tough. British women tend to buy their underwear mainly at Marks & Spencer, La Senza or in giant supermarkets that sell everything under one roof, or even Primark.

The former Millwall FC chairman argues: "Why would a woman want to buy her most intimate clothing at the same time as buying a ready meal or a frozen chicken. Some retailers have conditioned women into thinking that they only want lingerie at low prices, but British women can be adventurous. La Senza has reinvented itself to be younger and sexier. And we are delivering something at Boux Avenue that is sexy but at the price point that British women want."

At Boux Avenue shoppers can sign up to a loyalty card where they will get points for every pound they spend. If a size is not available in the store, the shopper can pay and get a delivery at home the next day straight from Paphitis's warehouse in Crewe.

But the lingerie market is set to get crowded. US-owned Victoria's Secret is planning a UK launch and has signed up for a store in Bond Street and is also eyeing Stratford City shopping centre in London.

Paphitis is under no illusion that he has his work cut out. The sector is worth £3.5bn and M&S has a 27 per cent share of it. He is fully aware of how failure can visit the most experienced businessman. George Davies – the man behind George at Asda and Per Una at M&S – had to close his fledgling Give chain last year.

"It was a great lesson. If George can fail then really anyone can. I am a massive fan. When he dropped the ball – and he did drop the ball – then there is a question that I could drop the ball. We believe we are able to fail. But this keeps us focused."

As he speaks, Paphitis receives a text from his wife asking if he will be coming home for dinner that night. He is, but not till gone 9pm, and it will be the first dinner he has had at home in two weeks, he says. But his his wife and five children aren't sidelined. "I love holidays and we have plenty of them. I take every school holiday off. This time it was Monaco and this is being followed by the south of France."

And he can afford to take some time off. He says: "The early impression for Boux Avenue is that we have got a lot right, so we are smug. But it can be taken away again, just like that. We have beaten our targets so we are pleased but not complacent."

Paphitis hopes to have another four stores open by Christmas and is just finalising the details of a shop in the Metrocentre in Gateshead.

He hired Guy Grainger at Jones Lang LaSalle to look for stores for Boux Avenue. Grainger says: "For most landlords of shopping centres the arrival of a new brand is very exciting. But, there are still some landlords whose primary concern is securing the highest rent which means it is difficult for new businesses to establish themselves in certain areas."

Paphitis still believes there is still a reason to open shops, despite the big rents in many locations.

"I believe shopping is a pastime and this is not going to change in my lifetime. But retailers have to look at stores. They need to make sure they have the DNA of future shopping habits – the technology and the service."

With that Paphitis is off to another product meeting – more knickers and bras. "It is a really tough job."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Sport
football
News
Tangerine Dream Edgar Froese
people
News
Rob Lowe
peopleRob Lowe hits out at Obama's snub of Benjamin Netanyahu
News
Davies (let) says: 'Everybody thought we were having an affair. It was never true!'
people'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
News
Staff assemble outside the old City Road offices in London
mediaThe stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century at Britain's youngest paper
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
The Oliver twins, Philip and Andrew, at work creating the 'Dizzy' arcade-adventure games in 1988
techDocumentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Arts and Entertainment
Krall says: 'My hero player-singer is Elton John I used to listen to him as a child, every single record
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Wu-Tang Clan will sell only one copy of their album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin
musicWu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own only copies of their latest albums
News
i100
Environment
Number so freshwater mussels in Cumbria have plummeted from up to three million in the 20th century to 500,000
environment
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Tax Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Tax Assistant is required to join a leading ...

Recruitment Genius: Outbound Sales Executive - OTE £25,000

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Developer - Watford - £45,000 - £47,000

£45000 - £47000 per annum + bonus + benefits: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / ...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Product Manager - (Financial Services) - SW London

£35000 - £38000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - Marke...

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us