Q&A: Charles Tyrwhitt CEO Luke Kingsnorth

Nicholas Charles Tyrwhitt Wheeler founded menswear brand Charles Tyrwhitt in 1986, simply because he thought he “could make a shirt better than anybody else.” In 1997, the company opened its first store on London’s Jermyn Street, notable for its history in custom British shirt making. That first store was joined by a website in 1998, a Paris store in 2001 and a store on New York City’s Madison Avenue in 2002; a new store opened on Jermyn Street in 2011.

Today, Charles Tyrwhitt (pronounced “Tirrit”) specializes in formal men’s shirts, shoes, suits, knitwear and accessories. The company operates 40 stores in the United Kingdom, Europe and the United States, with multiple locations in New York City and Long Island, as well as Washington, D.C., Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, Paramus, N.J., and an outlet store in Wrentham, Mass.

CEO Luke Kingsnorth joined the retailer in 2010 as ecommerce director before rising to ecommerce and marketing director in 2012. Over the last three years, he has been focused on establishing the New York office and managing all aspects of the label’s North American business. In that time, the company experienced double-digit growth and expanded its retail footprint within the United States. Prior to joining Charles Tyrwhitt, Kingsnorth was senior manager at John Lewis Direct, and has held several ecommerce and marketing roles at companies including Eurostar, British Sky Broadcasting Group and Skandia Life & Manpower.

What’s the story behind Charles Tyrwhitt?

Back in the ‘80s, more traditional apparel was rather inaccessible to the working man population, so Nick [founder Nicholas Wheeler]decided to make it more accessible. At that time, Nick was really an innovator in terms of offering good quality for a good value and that shook up the whole industry. We were the first Jermyn Street retailer to have no-iron shirts and the first Jermyn Street retailer to offer multiple fits in shirts and suits. Even though we’ve been around for 33 years, we’ve always been seen as kind of a new kid on the block. Nick’s goal then, which is still our purpose today, is to help men dress well.

What age or attitude best describes your target market?

We see a lot of people working in financial services, in insurance and accountancy, the legal profession and in corporate roles. We’re able to serve an upper middle-class customer that’s broadly described as a 30- to 50-year-old guy who works in an office environment.

How has Charles Tyrwhitt changed since you began with the company?

I’ve been around for nine years now and moving into my third life with the company. In the beginning, I was devoted to ecommerce and marketing. In 2015, we made the decision to set up a proper on-the-ground U.S. operation. I moved over here in 2016, and we have a team now of 25 to 30 people covering marketing, retail, retail operations, HR and visual merchandising to look after our U.S business, where bricks-and-mortar accounts for about 20 percent of our total revenue — 80 percent comes from direct sales. I’m overseeing all those areas, which is my first general management role. From a marketing perspective, we had separate missions for our catalog customer, for our store customer and one for our ecommerce customer. Those have been consolidated into a single team.

Was the person who shopped in-store, through the catalog or online actually the same customer, or three different shoppers?

We treated them differently, and back in 2010, to be fair they acted a bit differently. But our customer has become more multichannel. Interestingly, underneath all of that, we actually had good visibility of our customers across all our channels. We just didn’t act in a way that best (served) them.

Today, we’re happy to help customers wherever they are happy to shop. If they want to shop online on a Sunday evening because that’s convenient for them but return that product in their local store Monday because it’s near their work, we are completely comfortable with that and happy to do that. So, while we broke down our internal silos of treating this omnichannel customer, the customer was actually breaking down the channel silos.

Is there a strategy for growing with your customer?

We’re very used to looking at the behaviors of customers and adapting based on the data that we’re seeing. We’ve adapted our product range, and now we have a much wider range of fit and sizes. For our customer who is no longer wearing the standard uniform of a suit and tie to the office, we have a casual line that still offers great fit so our customer feels they are still well dressed.

How do you remain competitive in the U.S. market?

Even though we are well over $100 million just in the United States in sales, we are much smaller when you compare us with well-known competitors. When it was just either a navy blue suit and white shirt, or a gray suit and white shirt, it was relatively simple. It’s a bit more challenging now that there is a move beyond casual dress and dress codes that are now more relaxed.

Those customers enjoy expressing themselves through what they wear.

Athleisure marks another iteration of casual and we’re now looking at much more technical products. There are so many choices that are right at everyone’s fingertips. We’re making sure that we’re offering customers the right level of choice in terms of style options.

Any plans for product collaborations?

I don’t want to say we will never have a collaboration partner, but we want to tread very carefully and make sure that we keep true to what we stand for. We don’t know what the next big thing might be, but how that (collaboration) might manifest itself is the question. We need a synergy that is right for our customer and our history. If not, we won’t do it.

Janet Groeber has covered all aspects of the retail industry for more than 20 years. Her reporting has appeared in AdWeek and DDI Magazine, among others.