Ted Baker. One of the UK’s leading fashion brands. Chris Browne was the co-founder. That’s who joined us for an interactive Q&A at our online meetup on Remo!
A 46-year career in retail that saw him grow the Ted Baker brand to a value of £1.6billion when he left in 2017. A true retail expert.
Fun fact? Despite people claiming to know the man himself, Ted Baker is a fictional character.
In this Q&A with Network My Club Founder and Managing Direction, Chris gave insight into how the Ted Baker brand began, why they decided to not advertise from the very beginning and how he sees the retail industry evolving.
What’s your journey? Where did it all start?
I’ve worked in retail for 46 years. I started in a newspaper shop when I was 12 doing a paper round earning £1.50 a week. However, I quickly realised that doing the paper round wasn’t efficient. If I came in earlier and marked up the papers I could earn more money, stay in the warm and have a cup of tea!
I went on to move in a pet shop, a bank, a building site and inevitably fell into retail! I decided that I was going to be the best retailer in the world.
How did Ted Baker start?
It was 3am and I opening a store on Oxford Street putting the display together in the window. Ray Kelvin – Ted Baker co-founder – was standing across the road in the pouring rain watching me put the display together. He decided there and then that he needed to work with me.
He came over to speak to me but I didn’t want to want to! However, he and his team pursued me to meet with them to discuss a new business. After 6 weeks or so I decided to go into business with him.
One thing I did learn during the early days is that you’ve got to go through the bad times. We spent 7 or 8 years struggling, re-financing and finally found the ‘key to the kingdom’ with a shirt that sold particularly well.
We spent 7 or 8 years struggling, re-financing and finally found the ‘key to the kingdom’ with a shirt that sold particularly well.
I learnt recently that Ted Baker is a fictional character. What was the rationale behind the creation?
I’ve always said that Ted Baker should be Ray himself. He didn’t agree. We fought over that for over 10 years! It wouldn’t work today, but we created this character that was a sort of James Bond dream scenario guy that travelled the world.
We had a lot of fun with it. People even used to say they knew him!
At the start of Ted Baker you made the bold decision that you’d never advertise. What was the idea behind that?
That idea came about in the advertising boom of the late 80s. Neither Ray nor I liked it. We wanted to keep all our money in the product and what we do. Instead we did direct marketing; give away products that we got for free to our customers.
Instead we did direct marketing; we’d give away products that we got for free to our customers.
When you left Ted Baker the valuation of the company was £1.4b. How did you get to that point?
When a celebrity bought one of our shirts Ray always wanted to keep it a secret. He preferred people to find out about us by word of mouth rather than shout about it. I thought that was bonkers. But it gave us a weird strength. We built up real customers who believed in us.
We had this vision that every store we opened had to make money from day one otherwise we wouldn’t do it. That’s why we opened very slowly. Everything about it had to be right for our brand. We worked so hard to get the best real estate around the world for our business.
We worked so hard to get the best real estate around the world for our business.
Talk us through your approach to looking after employees…
Ray had an obsession with making certain that our teams had more than just the job. For example, we had massage Thursday’s. We also had a five-star restaurant in the building. The food was incredible.
I was always obsessed with learning and development for my teams. We had regular conversations with employees to discuss what they wanted to get from their career. You never had to leave Ted Baker to grow. If they stayed with us we’d try to help them learn, develop and match their ambitions.
How will retail look in 6 months? Will people still be shopping on the high street in 5/10 years?
I’ve got some facts from countries that have reopened already. A business in Germany is seeing a 40% decrease in the footfall they had before. I feel the fallout for those weaker brands is going to be unfortunate.
High street shops just need to refine, improve and have a point for existence. That’ll be great service and better use of technology.
High street shops just need to refine, improve and have a point for existence. Have great service and better use of technology.
What are you doing now?
I also do phone consultancy for 5/6 companies and another 8 advisory roles. Jelly Drops is one of them, a hydrating sweets company for people with dementia. If anyone has elderly relatives that suffer with hydration, I’d highly recommend them!