Philip Mountford: Moss Bros chief must move quickly to keep pace with high-street fashions
Like his Vespa scooter, Philip Mountford must be adaptable and nimble to deal with today's challenging retail scene
Saturday 09 August 2008
After the alarm goes off, Philip Mountford has a quick flick through the retail sales numbers from the night before on his handheld before leaving the house at 5.15am. "All the numbers now come through on an hourly basis," he says.
It's fair to say that the last nine months have probably been among the most turbulent since Mr Mountford was promoted to Moss Bros chief executive in early 2004. He has had to contend with the most severe downturn the retail sector has witnessed since the early 1990s, while dealing with a protracted takeover approach from the Icelandic investment group Baugur, which collapsed in May.
His choice of transport for commuting in from Chislehurst, Kent, to Moss Bros's head office in Clapham depends on the weather. "If the weather is great, I am on the Vespa [scooter], but if not I drive the car," he says.
Moss Bros has 180 stores, including the Moss-branded stores, which also house its suit hire business, as well as franchise stores for the brands Canali, Hugo Boss and Simon Carter, whose brand is cunningly displayed on Mr Mountford's scooter.
After arriving at the office just before 6am, he then spends 20 minutes checking his diary and printing off details of his meetings. Following this, he heads to the Fitness First gym, which is 100 feet from the office, and runs between 5km and 6km, before heading back to the office just before 7am.
He then starts his first meeting of the day, with the finance director, Michael Hitchcock, and trading director, Ciaran McCloskey, between 7.15am and 8am.
This week, they discussed Moss Bros's three-year strategic plan, elements of which were put on hold during the protracted Baugur takeover approach. "This is about store refurbishment and the product offer," he says.
He hops on a train for Kingston-upon-Thames to check out Moss's new format store, which had a complete layout change about four months ago. "It is about making sure our store layout clearly explains to our customers that we are the UK's biggest branded suit retailer," he says.
He adds that the retailer has conducted substantial market research recently to better understand what customers want and how they shop, which has been reflected in the new format store.
"We are trying to grow units per transaction. There are going to be less consumers on the high street, and it is about maximising that opportunity to build a purchase," says Mr Mountford, who talks with a purpose and pace that seems appropriate for a working day that many people would find exhausting.
On current trade, Mr Mountford says: "It's been challenging, but we are finding that customers are increasingly choosing from our fashion and premium ranges, which suggests they are opting for investment dressing."
Mr Mountford then jumps back on the train, arriving at the office at 11.15am for a 45-minute catch up with his personal assistant. This includes planning a trip for him, the merchandise director and two buyers to China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, where they will meet supply chain and manufacturing partners. "We are refining our casual wear offer. We are smartening it up. Our consumer is looking for smart casual wear," he says.
After eating a sandwich, bought by his PA, he calls the new Moss Bros chairman, David Adams, who was hired last month. "We talk about last week's figures and how business was going last week, where the strengths and weaknesses [were]," says Mr Mountford.
He says: "I speak to him [Mr Adams] daily. He has just come on board and has been in the business a few days. He will be a great asset for us. It is about building a rapport between the two of us."
Following a chat with Mr Adams, he has a meeting with Sean Murray, head of marketing and communications, who joined from the grocery giant Tesco last month. "It is good to bring some new energy into the business," says Mr Mountford.
Mr Murray's remit is to more clearly define the Moss brand to deliver communications across all its media channels, including newspapers and online.
At 2.30pm, Mr Mountford holds an e-commerce meeting, which Mr Murray also attends as his role also covers online. "It is about making sure the internet links into our stores and all our communications," says Mr Mountford.
He says the biggest growth in its online sales, as well as in its stores, is with its brands, such as Ben Sherman, French Connection, Ted Baker and Calvin Klein. Moss is also poised to start stocking Boateng suits in its stores.
Mr Mountford says it is then "time to have a bit of fun", when he signs off the Hugo Boss spring and summer collection, with the buying team, which will hit stores early next year. "It is nice to have a bit of a break during the day. It is all about product for retail businesses," he says.
Moss Bros runs 14 Hugo Boss stores and plans to add another four by the end of the year.
At 5pm, Mr Mountford climbs back on a train and heads into the West End to visit its store on Oxford Street, which is receiving a similar refurbishment to the Kingston store. Here, he talks to the merchandise team about the strategy and applying it to a larger store.
Keeping up with the breakneck pace of the day, Mr Mountford then takes a short taxi ride to one of its Savoy Taylors Guild stores in the City. "It is a fashionable English look targeted at business executives aged between 30 and 50 years old; so beautifully stylish clothing in a clearly defined monobrand format," says Mr Mountford, who clearly likes to talk about clothes.
He jumps in a cab for the short trip to the bar and restaurant Shoreditch House for a meeting with a supplier. "I tend to have one or two business dinners a week," he says. After dinner he heads back to Kent in a taxi before he starts all over again at 4.45am the next day.
Asked about the favourite part of his job, he says: "I was a buyer at 21. The favourite part of my job is still about the product. It is all about great product and people."
With the Baugur takeover bid now behind Moss Bros, Mr Mountford should be able to focus on selling products in one of the most challenging trading environments that retailers have known for years. Mr Mountford says: "It would have been great if it had come off, but we are now able to get back into the business and focus on what we need to do to drive the business going forward."
Name: Philip Mountford
Family: Two children, aged 14 and 9
Lives: Chislehurst, Kent
Interests: Running marathons
1989–1996 Group buying andmerchandising director, Simpson Piccadilly
1996–1998 Daks Group, retail director
1998–1999 Nautica Europe, European sales and marketing director
1999–2002 Gianni Versace, managing director UK, Scandinavia and emerging markets
2002–present Moss Bros group, chief executive
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