IE’s Lucinda Reid spoke with Mark Stevenson about how the company, Stevensons, has grown to be the largest independent school uniform and sportswear provider in the UK, serving over 350 schools nationwide.
What was Stevensons like when it was first founded?
Founded in 1925, originally as Victoire Modes, the company grew to become a department store. Our grandfather started the business before handing it over to the next generation. My father took the reins for the fashion and schoolwear departments and, by the late ’80s, it had become a pure school uniform company. At that time, we catered for around 40 local St. Albans area schools and now we work with well over 400 across the UK.
How has the Stevensons brand evolved?
The brand has always been very strong, synonymous with excellent quality and service. In 2008, our first acquisition was ‘Len Smiths’ in Twickenham and within 10 years we have bought eight more businesses, including ‘Lester Bowden’ in Epsom just months ago.
Our commitment to service sets us apart from our competitors. We understand that the needs of parents differ and that a one-standard service option doesn’t suit everyone. We also have a first-class e-commerce site and offer pop-up shop events at schools.
We cover all bases to make sure our customers have a convenient and hassle-free experience.
As Stevensons is family run, how does this impact the business?
As a family business, we react a lot quicker not having to appease shareholders. At the end of the day, we are running our business and it’s our name, literally, above the door. Listening to customers is essential to our success, but more significant is how we act on feedback to continually improve services, staying one-step ahead of our competitors.
What makes your uniform and sportswear special?
Whilst principally a retailer, we still pay great attention to product sourcing and manufacturing. We have very strong relationships with our manufacturers which gives us unrivalled service in our industry. Samples and one-off specials can be run through a factory in hours and with us a few days later, which is a fantastic service for schools who want to see a finished garment before committing. Our sportswear garments are made using the latest technical fabrics in modern designs and fits and our sub-brand XXV Sportswear is now used by over 150 independent schools.
What is it like working with independent schools?
Independent schools understand our industry and its timescales. Stock investment is critical, but with relatively small runs of products and the seasonality of the business, we need to manage change gradually.
What’s next for Stevensons? How do you see the business growing?
Our five-year plan is to increase the business organically as well as through acquisition. We expect sales growth this year of 35% to around £16m, increasing to £25m by 2022. We are also investing in a new 15,000 sq ft warehouse to supplement our existing 25,000 sq ft distribution centre.
How do you plan to invest in Stevensons’ sportswear brand, XXV?
Our 2018 goal is to create a more extensive core range of sportswear to supplement our bespoke offer. At the moment all of our brand is made to order, so we sit down with each school and design their kits.
What has been your proudest moment so far?
From a business perspective, one of our proudest moments was in the early days of launching XXV. We were up against some of the leading sportswear brands for a contract with St Paul’s Girls’ School and they chose us because of the service levels that we offered. They could see the journey we were on and they wanted to join us!