How has Schoolwear Solutions been doing since its formation?
Schoolwear Solutions is the trading name of Newplan Solutions, which was formed in April after John Cheatle Group entered administration by amalgamating several of their high-street and in-school shops. We were fortunate to retain some of the very best people involved in schoolwear, to be supported by the best manufacturers and wholesalers within school uniform, to retain the majority of schools in those branches and to have won a few more since formation. The first quarter has seen us perform well and we are looking forward to a very successful 2014/15.
How does the new company differ from John Cheatle?
Family members Nick Cheatle (Chairman) and Joss Cheatle (Merchandising Director) bring critical knowledge into the new business. They are balanced by our Finance Director (Ian Guyler), myself and the Reward Capital team, who bring a wealth of experience from other industries. We believe that this will allow us to retain the loyalty and commitment which you only get from a family-run business, while ensuring that new blood and perspectives are welcomed into the business.
What sort of buying power do you have?
We have outlets from the South Coast to Cleveland, and continue to be one of the largest schoolwear retailers in the UK. This means we can continue to offer the ‘like for like – we’re always cheaper’ commitment from our high-street stores, and we continue to be a key partner for many of our suppliers.
What are the upsides of a smaller schoolwear business?
Greater focus and responsiveness to schools’ specific needs is a key advantage. When in August a key supplier told us that uniforms would not be available until November, we were able to source and sample alternative garments for our schools to ensure that the school was not left without uniform at the start of the new academic year.
What do you see as the current weaknesses in schoolwear provision?
• The large supermarkets with their ‘when it’s gone, it’s gone’ approach to schoolwear will never meet the needs of schools who see their uniform as a critical contributor to discipline, learning and the school brand.
• Web-only supply is inadequate. The emotional investment of parents means that we want to see and feel the quality, and guarantee that the uniform will fit on the first day of school.
• The ‘measure, make and distribute’ option is based on a flawed conceit that all children are average and will grow at a certain rate in the intervening months. It fails children who are not average, or cannot attend the measuring event, or might require garments mid-term.
• The most unforgivable practice, however, is when a uniform company deliberately commits to inappropriate brands and ‘designs out’ other suppliers to prevent the school switching. This practice drives up prices, increases replenishment times which delays uniform supply, and results in ill-prepared pupils arriving at school.
What will Newplan Solutions do different from its competitors?
Newplan Solutions will continue to deliver a multi-layered service to schools, via online, on-site and high-street presences, and we will maintain a minimum of three to six months of predicted stock needs, irrespective of the time of year. More importantly, our initial uniform recommendation will always seek to ensure that the school benefits from a robust supply chain, with sufficient depth and a balance between price, quality and branding to meet both the schools aspirations and its pupils demographic make-up.
What are the main challenges of the next few years?
Like all new start-ups, our challenge will be establishing a profitable base and viable, responsive supply chain. We are already well on the way towards this with the schools and suppliers who have supported us this summer, and we expect a great response to our offering in the new academic year.
Newplan Solutions Limited T: 0116 299 0930 W: www.schoolwearsolutions.com