Joules: Tom Joule

The outdoor clothing trader survived foot and mouth and then developed a £12m business


The foot and mouth epidemic of 2001 should have bankrupted Tom Joule.

As a clothing trader selling at outdoor rural events he lost his entire selling platform overnight – only days after remortgaging his house to place a £100,000 order from China. In an attempt to cut his losses he took the samples to clothing stores – they liked them and placed orders. Those deals not only saved Joule from the prospect of repossession but also opened up a revenue stream that’s now the core of a £12m turnover business.

“At one point if someone had offered me a quid for each item I’d have taken it,” says Joule, “but it was a good time for new products. The established brands had become complacent, were expensive and weren’t releasing new ranges. You could say I stumbled on a new selling platform but it just proved our concept and designs were right.”

Joules has brought a modern edge to a staid niche traditionally dominated by brands that seemed to think practical had to mean green or navy and unadventurous design. Joule introduced fashion to rural outwear – he’s taken a chance on young designers trained by Jasper Conran – but has also scored fi nancial success through implementing equally modern business practices. Designs are imported from China where they’re made by the company’s own manufacturing fi rm, Klowt (Joule owns 50% with a former school friend).

The model enables Joules to not just out-design the competition, but undercut them by around 25% too. And he insists it’s not at the expense of quality. “We applied modern business philosophy but we’re not as cheap as we could have been – quality is just as important to us and I’d say we pay more attention to detail too.”

Joules has been compared and even described as a challenger to Boden, a comparison Joule is extremely fl attered by – although not to the extent that he thinks it’s unwarranted. “If we could get as big as them it’d be fantastic but our sums probably already stack up better – margin is our key and there’s a lot larger companies could learn from us.”

BACKWARDS IN GOING FORWARD

Price-setting is an issue Joule believes many fl edgling entrepreneurs approach from the wrong angle. “We look at the product and think ‘what realistically will people pay for this?’ then we work backwards allowing for the shop’s cut, the seller agent’s cut, the manufacturing and see if it works. Too many people make it fi rst then fi nd they can’t get the price they wanted.”

Joules clothing is currently stocked in 600 shops with that stream of the business currently accounting for 75% of the company’s turnover. Its online and mail order division are also booming, with business up 300% since being given added focus 18 months ago.

“We went through a process of professional upgrading where we reviewed, and in some cases changed, suppliers and brought in a specialist mail order consultant to make us as effi cient as possible,” says Joule.

Joules will also open its sixth store in March and Joule says there are plans to roll-out – however it’s unlikely to happen this year. “It’s more important to me that the shops we’ve got now are absolutely as we want them to be. We’re essentially a family brand and want to give people a great experience when they shop with us. I want to set that standard first.”

Consolidation and organic growth by a further £2m is the target for 2006, along with continued international expansion. However, Joule admits he’s not good at being patient. “We’ve talked about consolidation for the past two years but there are some opportunities you just can’t turn down.” When they represent £10m in new revenue streams, Joule is probably right to keep chasing them.

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