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How Charles Tyrwhitt Does It With Mail

Date: August, 2015 --

Beginning his presentation to the assembled PMG’s, Presidents and senior executives of the 40 or so postal system members of the International Postal Corporation in May of last year, Founder and Owner of Charles Tyrwhitt, Nick Wheeler, said, “We would love brochures to die. We test them a lot. We test our promotions with and without brochures. We test big versus little brochures. We find time after time that this business would not grow anywhere near the rate it does if we didn’t send those brochures out.”

            And it has always been so for this company, which Nicholas Charles Tyrwhitt Wheeler first founded in a little room in college in 1986. The company barely grew for eight years, but he had the bug of working for himself and he had a vision of selling shirts through the mail. Why shirts and ties through the mail? Because they are about the same size, they fit nicely, not to mention relatively inexpensively, in a flat box that protects the product and “you can ship them pretty much anywhere in the world for not very much money.”

He paused for breath (and bankruptcy) in the early ‘90’s and built again, opening the company’s first actual store 2 years later in high-fashion Jermyn St., London, and expanding the product line to ties, suits, shoes, outerwear and accessories. 

The company has always concentrated, from day one, on mail order as the core sales method.  “Across the board, young and old like the paper. People still love letters.” In fact, he has been an advocate for direct mail since the beginning, so much so that so that his then friend, now wife, Chrissie Rucker began her creation of the enormously successful White Company with direct mail.  (This company is a furnishings and fashion chain selling goods only in white. Ms. Rucker is perhaps the highest earning business woman in the UK, having been paid £6.5 million last year.)

            The company’s growth has been not quite, but nearly straight up, and its growth has been powered most definitely primarily by mail order. In fact, its compound growth rate for the last 20 years has been 22%! 

Last year it had £158 million pounds in revenues, 750 employees, and 23 physical shops in London (8), UK (9), US (5), and Paris (1). Revenues by origin were UK 34%, US 33%, Germany 19%, and Australia 9%. 

Mail order target countries, and the extraordinary sales numbers, were as follows:

                        Australia                                  £10 million

                        Russia                                     £1.4 million

                        France                                     £1.3 million

                        Sweden                                   £800,000

                        Canada                                   £540, 000

                        Austria                                     £540, 000

                        Switzerland                             £380, 000

With the exception of France, none of these has a physical store, and France has only one. “We would not be growing as fast without “books”,” he noted.  And the arrival of the Internet and eCommerce was not a challenge; being in mail order the skills needed are very similar. What has been hard was retail!

            The company mailed over 35 million “brochures” in 2014, twice the volume of the year before. Of these, 13 million were big books, 136 page A4’s. These went to customers. Another 15 million smaller brochures went to cold prospects from rented lists. 

Why expand internationally? The genesis seems to have been the realization that Australia might have more possibility than the £1 million generated per year without major attention. Through carefully targeting the market, sales were increased in one year to £10 million (9% of revenues). All sales were caused by the “brochures”. According to Mr. Wheeler, the ‘Net was important, but only as the ordering medium, not the sales/marketing medium. For that, brochures and big catalogs were essential drivers traffic to the online point of purchase.  

            “Mail order and the Internet go together,” he remarked. Younger people “don’t understand the importance of paper mailings and mail order like we do. It drives the business. People love letters.” Anyone using this effective strategy of using direct mail to drive traffic to online points of sale should absolutely have an effective Match Back Process in place in order to help properly attribute those online sales to your direct mail / catalog marketing initiatives.

            The exercise also taught that expanding internationally was a natural hedge to the alternative sole reliance on the British economy and allows for the leveraging of global assets, such as the US-based customer service facility. 

            And what’s the recipe for success for the company in its foreign market forays? “It’s a virtuous circle. We need affordable and efficient catalogue delivery and we need affordable and efficient fulfillment. We have to have the timing right between the order and the delivery.” The timing between the two must be coordinated and above all reliable – In short, good postal service.

            In considering further international expansion, on top of reliable delivery of catalogs and products, Mr. Wheeler leapt to mention the need for data, lists of prospects to whom he could mail.  And in his acceptance speech of an ECMOD lifetime achievement award bestowed on himself and his wife Chrissie Rucker in 2013, he was quick to note, “If I can do mail order, anyone can do mail order.” 

            Here at Data Services, Inc. we don’t take a stand on the requirements to be a success at mail order, but we do know that we can contribute significantly to your domestic and international success by helping maintain those client and prospect databases and keeping your international postal address data accurate and current. Through our MarketView DMP, we can also provide you with advanced segmentation, data/campaign analytics and response analysis tools that will help you more effectively understand and communicate with your audience, and hopefully match that fabulous compound growth rate of Charles Tyrwhitt.