It is full speed ahead for Dutch lingerie retailer Hunkemöller, now that the Carlyle Group has officially finished its acquisition of the company from its former owners PAI Partners. With the new owners firmly backing the high street retailer’s now three-year plan, which includes expanding its store portfolio network to count over 1,200 stores and entering new markets such as Asia and South America, Hunkemöller aims to continue growing to become the largest omni-channel lingerie retailer Europe. In order to learn more about the high street retailer’s ongoing growth and continual success, FashionUnited took a moment to speak to Hunkemöller’s Design Director, Zoë Price-Smith at it’s summer 2016 beachwear and swimwear presentation, #MyEndlessSummer.
“The change of owners hasn’t affect the brand’s design direction at all,” said Price-Smith when questioned what effect the change of ownership has had. “At the end of the day I see it as a very positive thing to have happened to us, as there is plenty of opportunity for us really grow and evolve the product.” Price-Smith, who has been with Hunkemöller for close to four and half years, said she has certainly seen the brand grow and evolve from when she was first named Head of Design. Now, together with her International design team of ten, she currently designs and develops over 3,500 products a year, launching new collections every six weeks for product categories ranging from swimwear, to lingerie, to accessories and sportswear, in no means an easy feat.
Hunkemöller continual success is thanks to its strong omni-channel presence
“My role at Hunkemöller has really changed over the years. It has really evolved and I have learnt so much,” she noted. Price-Smith credits management team guidance and dedication to the brand’s vision, as well as its DNA, to both her growth and the company’s growth, which has seen the Dutch retailer thrive in a time when many other mid-market retailers are struggling to get by. “I think that when you are in-line with your strategy, you believe in the vision and at the end of the day you deliver it yourself,” added the British former design consultant. “You have to be able to cascade that down into your teams as well, which I have learned over the years. You mature in your role and learn to work with speed, efficiently and manage the designers, whilst understanding the designing and development of the collections.” One of the main pillars of Hunkemöller’s strategy, which has contributed to its expansion, continues to be omni-channel.
Due to its omni-channel success, the lingerie retailer has seen a substantial growth of 48 percent last year in like for like sales. In fact, the retailer is forecasting an omni-channel growth of over 40 percent year on year, which means the omni-channel business will be more than 100 million euros. However, although e-commerce is a vital part of the retailer’s success story, another channel has also been contributing to Hunkemöller growth. According to Philip Mountford, CEO of Hunkemöller, m-commerce is a key criteria to the lingerie retailer’s success story, with 62.4 percent of the retailer’s online visitors coming in through a mobile device. The spike in m-commerce was the main reason why Hunkemöller redeveloped its app to ensure a smoother, faster and more seamless shopping experience for customers using a mobile device. In addition, the launch of Click & Collect services as well as Click & Reserve and Order in Stores have helped boost online sales and currently account for a “significant part” of Hunkemöller omni-business.
It is also thanks to the retailer’s strong multi-faceted sales channel that they have hardly been affected by the closure of one of the main department store partners within the Netherlands: V&D. “It’s just really awful, it’s so sad,” said Price-Smith on V&D’s closure last month. “I think that it has been very difficult for V&D, as well as all the employees who lost their jobs. But we are doing very well and it hasn’t really had an effect on us - although you need to be aware what is going on in the retail segment of the markets you are in.” According to Mountford, the lingerie retailer did noticed a slight drop in sales following the closure of the department store chain, but it seems as if the former V&D customer has found their way back Hunkemöller. “But Germany is our biggest market,” stressed Price-Smith, highlighting that the retailer’s collections are always versatile enough to fulfil all of their markets needs and expectations. “Germany is completely different in their market needs to Holland, for example they are more trend-led and fashionable.”
"Everything starts with the concept" at Hunkemöller
When it comes to working with the latest trends, Price-Smith relies on the design and buying teams working together hand in hand to make sure each piece ties in with the overall concept. “Everything starts with the concept - so when you are creating something influenced by the “globe traveller” for example then I would brief the whole team and we would do mood boards, swatches, make samples and so on to make sure it all matches. The departments are very considered and we all work to one vision.” Hunkemöller’s Summer 2016 swimwear collection ties together a number of trends which ensures the products are diverse as well as versatile for all their customers. “You will see a mix of fabrics, as well as attention to the front and back details which is absolutely key. Trends which have been in style around the world, such as cultural influences are also really coming through in the collection, seen in our prints, embroideries, and cuts. I think there is a good, differentiated selection for everybody. With this collection, I really feel like we have moved things on, as we do every year and really celebrated the fashionability side of the collection.”
Main trends that stand out in the collection according to Price-Smith include the globe traveller, inspired by the urban and ethnic tribes of the world, fairy tales, reflected in the sea pastels and vivid colours of the collection as well as queen boho, influenced by the queen of the island and translated into body armour-like swimsuit and strappy two pieces. “At the end of the day when I create our globe trends, I need to make sure I am directing all departments into the right areas for the brand,” continued Price-Smith. “I have to work very closely with my team, getting to drive that trend forward. So for example, taking the nature trend, we have to think how that would work in swimwear versus lingerie, what fabrics are we going to use, what colour scheme, what shapes? If it is a bohemian season, then it will carry through from swimwear into lingerie as well. So I have to very clear in our vision and always think what the customer would want this season as well and work with a trend that is driving it across all areas of Hunkemöller.”
Discussing of all areas of Hunkemöller, one area the new owners will also be pushing forward is expansion. Although the lingerie retailer currently counts over 700 stores across 18 countries, including the Benelux, Germany, France, Spain, Austria, Sweden and Denmark, Hunkemöller has its sights sent on global expansion. The retailer aims to focus on pushing into Asia and America and is set to open stores in Kuwait, Russia, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, New Zealand and Trinidad between 2016-2018, a big step, even for a company as successful as Hunkemöller. But where does Price-Smith see the lingerie retailer fitting in overseas? “At the end of the day it’s about trialling and testing, even if it is only online, to see where our products would fit in the market,” she said. “The Asian market is a different market for us, but it would be a great opportunity for us to grow and a great educational chance to go into those territories.” Although she believes the lingerie business of the retailer would do the best in Asia, as it is 50 percent of Hunkemöller’s business, she also thinks that swim could do very well as well. “There really are so many great products we are driving now, from lingerie, to swimwear to accessories, our sports-lines are growing as well as our nightwear, we are really pushing up the products.”
However, regardless of which markets Hunkemöller steps into, Price-Smith believes that ensuring the company’s collections are on trend and in-line with the brand’s own DNA and signatures will ensure its ongoing success. “You have to be ahead in the market you are in, which drives me to be ahead of everyone else and that pushes me to do my own things. I don’t want to be doing the same as everyone else, we have our own brand DNA and I want to translate the key trends in a way that’s best for us.”