Monday, April 18, 2005

Savile Row and the winds of change

I came across a blog that mentioned an interesting Evening Standard article on the real estate and business model issues of today's Savile Row. There's no direct link to the ES website but the blog has links to the scanned article.

Incidentally, the blogger in question is apparently one of Thomas Mahon's friends/colleagues who convinced him to do the English Cut blog. A brilliant piece of marketing advice I think.

The article highlights the defining issue of Savile Row from a business perspective - namely, the classic business question of "make v. buy". In other words, do you keep as much of the tailoring/cutting/sewing and production in-house or do you disaggregate/outsource to achieve efficiencies that keeps pricing competitive? The older houses are struggling to keep things in-house in an environment of increasing real-estate prices. This is a classic economic squeeze - with sales flat and costs rising, the number of management options suddenly decrease. For most industries, cutting costs is easier than increasing sales. However, in a high-touch, high-involvement customer experience like bespoke tailoring, increasing sales turnover is even more difficult.

It's a real challenge but I certainly hope the traditional method survives and indeed thrives. If "old" Savile Row survives, it will do so in part because of the loyal support of its customers above and beyond the payment for bespoke apparel. Perhaps the appropriate word is less "customer" and more like a partner or a patron. According to the article, Anderson & Sheppard has survived only because of the "support" of wealthy clients (including Prince Charles).

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