With his happy wall as the central feature in his Leeds-based office, Simon Brown is not your usual fashion brand CEO.
The founder of the company Joe Browns who has announced his intention to achieve 138% increase in turnover by 2026, greets me wearing an outfit consisting of shirt and tie finished off with a denim jacket. As soon as we enter the office, he proudly narrates how items such as menus, postcards and masquerade masks (all fastened on with drawing pins and tape – no curated framing here) earned their place on his ‘wall of joy’.
With a story-to-be-told for each of the near fifty exhibits, Brown weaves his way through loss, love, laughter and limitless travel whilst giving me the clear understanding that already his is a life well-lived.
He is a maverick entrepreneur, clear from the outset that his firm belief is that success is as much down to luck and right place, right time as it is tenacity and skill. He laughs, cries and opens himself up as his honesty is for him the best policy.
Joe Browns is a good old-fashioned catalogue company that has pivoted into the age of digital with great success. Recent recruits from JD Sports and N Brown Group’s former buying director, Jane Reik, have helped facilitate the change that is needed to modernise and evolve the business. Yet every new colleague is crystal clear: this must be without losing any of the essence of the original brand.
For many, Joe Browns serves memories of catalogues dropping out of the big Sunday paper bundles illustrated with eclectic images of motorbikes (a passion of Brown’s) and travel mementos flanking an assortment of garments for sale that had a certain something. Purple flock coats, velvets and big pattern dresses sat alongside comfy denim and rock ‘n’ roll leaning leathers.
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The loyal consumer who has helped deliver twenty-three years of consecutive growth for business definitely wants to identify as being original and a little different to ’the norm’. This is as true today as ever in the past.
The company has a family feel, everyone seems to know everyone as an individual, despite many new recruits in the building thanks to a significant growth spurt at the organisation over the last two years.
Be it the Disney-mad customer service champion with his latest holiday countdown proudly displayed on the company calendar, or Shannon Berry, PR & Social Media Manager who tells me the story of her recent nuptials, everyone is allowed to let their personality shine through, and this is a culture clearly embraced from the top.
Starting his early days in his father’s retail business and showing entrepreneurial cunning, Simon has navigated a road to success that surprises even him. This vision started over two decades years ago with the simple aim of having some fun and making “a few quid along the way”. Today there is a hunger and ambition to reach another big target of building the business to a £100m turnover by 2026.
It is clear that a recent health scare causing Brown to be hospitalised for over six months, has been critical in giving him renewed energy and a reimagined passion for his business, all of which excites and ignites the team that will help him deliver it.
So how does the company intend to grow in a saturated and crowded market ? Simply with forensic attention on its customer.
Experts might suggest the Joe Brown’s approach shouldn’t work. The business proudly proclaims that it does not follow trends and never has. Its mission is to create remarkable clothes that its customers feel great in. It is age-agnostic and is more about attitude rather than the number of birthdays its customers have celebrated. This is evident from its third-party retailer relationships which span the likes of Very through to JD Williams. These are two very different audiences when it comes to age, but Joe Browns is one of the best performing retailers on both of these Ecommerce sites.
Digital transformation is happening but the catalogue (with Brown claiming that the current version is the best yet) remains the foundation of its marketing activity.
Another recent recruit is Peter Alecock who has joined JD Sports as CEO and will help the business on its journey of growth. The strategy is simple: to get Joe Browns in front of more people than ever before both in the UK and abroad, through a range of marketplaces, more third party retailers and direct growth.
When asked ‘why Peter for the role of CEO?’, Simon puts it simply “I wanted someone better than me and that’s exactly what we have got”.
The Joe Brown range continues to evolve with its largest homeware offer to date and a mezzanine in its warehouse in the offing to support continued growth.
So what makes for a CEO of Joy – maybe not just the wall of happiness, but being comfortable and confident in establishing a business that knows what it is -and what it isn’t. A fashion retailer that firmly promotes evolution not revolution, and Brown is more than happy with that.