British retailer Long Tall Sally is a company to look up to

Tall is beautiful and a very lucrative niche market too – according to Long
Tall Sally boss

Long Tall Sally , the clothing outlet for
statuesque women, has grown from a single London store to become a giant
e-tailer through acquisition and international expansion, and will open its
latest store in Munich on Friday.

The cross-border brand was founded by Judy Rich in 1976 when the UK-domiciled
American could not find clothes to fit her 5ft 11inch frame. She discovered
that manufacturers simply added inches to the bottom of skirts or trousers,
which did not make for the perfect fit.

In the mid-1980s, Rich became an early adopter of the catalogue model
already popular in the US alongside Next (Dusseldorf: NXG.DUnews) , and launched her mail order
business. It meant that 20 years later the business was ready-made for the
web.

But despite the natural niche market of tall women across the world, its
UK-only focus stunted growth, and nine years ago Amery Capital bought the
company out of administration.

The fund secured backing from Michael and Maurice Bennett, the fashion
entrepreneurs behind Warehouse, Oasis, Coast, and Phase Eight.

“They improved many aspects of the business,” says current chief executive
Andrew Shapin. “They professionalised the finance function and streamlined
many aspects of the production process, but what was really working was the
internet.”

And that’s where Shapin came in. The creator of the Cotswolds Company, an
online furniture retailer, was given the brief to grow the business online
and internationally.

When he took over, 95pc of trading was done in the UK, with 75pc in-store
rather than online, and the firm had an annual turnover of £10m. Today, the
UK division accounts for just 38pc of trade, with 60pc online and £30m of
revenue to be filed this year.

“We had a specific idea and strategy to be the first-choice fashion for tall
women,” he says. “We achieved this through the acquisition of smaller
businesses doing the same thing but in different markets.”

Despite the challenges of integration, it gave Long Tall Sally a useful
foothold in new markets, such as the US and Germany, still two of its most
dominant regions.

He also created a single view inventory. If a customer walks into the
Newcastle store looking for a certain item in a particular size, the system
can see it is in stock in Dusseldorf, print off a label, and have it posted
to them there and then.

Despite its international growth, Long Tall Sally remains distinctly British,
with centralised operations controlled from a UK-based call centre, boasting
multi-lingual staff and a Croydon warehouse.

“This is the only way to ensure we have the best quality product knowledge,”
he says.

There are 24 stores in all, plus a pop-up in Paris, though Shapin is searching
for more sites, with Australia on the current target list. Last week, he
acquired Barefoot, a US footwear brand for women with larger feet, and
acquiring complementary brands is part of the long-term growth strategy.

Growing the business has meant focusing on countries with the most developed
internet economies, meaning the management team must stay on top of the
different tastes and timetables of tall women across the world.

“We have to think internationally with the mindset of a German woman or US
woman whether it’s being aware of the different holiday calendar and
therefore different retail rhythms, or attitudinal shifts,” he says.

Customers all 750,000 of them are discerning. “Recent research in the UK
tells us that tall women earn £900 more per year per inch than their shorter
peers. They are looked up to as leaders and better educated. We are serving
confident women”.

Long Tall Sally is one of the London Stock Exchange (Other OTC: LDNXFnews) ’s top ‘1000 Companies To
Inspire Britain’