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'Everybody said suits will be dead': Moss CEO on heritage brand rise and customer letters

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Brian Brick took over as Moss' CEO in 2009 and has delivered impressive results. Photo: Moss
Brian Brick took over as Moss' CEO in 2009 and has delivered impressive results. Photo: Moss

“I have been in business 40 odd years and never enjoyed it as much. Perhaps I should have started in my sixties,” jokes Brian Brick, CEO of Moss, the British heritage brand and menswear specialist.

“I’ve had all the pain over the 40 years and it’s called experience. As I say to my team, ‘Often I’ve paid for the T-shirt, we don’t need to buy it again’. And that’s what the 40 years gives us.”

Brick was at the opening of Moss’ 109th store in Edinburgh this week, his cheerful outlook at the helm of the retailer, first established in 1851, further fuelled by buoyant figures — turnover was up 63% last year to £151.6 million — refreshed collections, store refurbishments, upsizing at existing locations and dropping "Bros" from its original name.

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“Businesses can survive as long as they keep evolving and reinventing themselves,” says Brick, “otherwise you become a bit of a dinosaur and what’s your reason to exist? What we have done is reinvent ourselves.”

Brick and his brother, Alex, took over their father's menswear business in 1985 and rebranded as Suits You before selling out to private equity 20 years later. He remained as a non-exec for a period before joining Moss — Suits You was its biggest competitor at the time — in the same role in 2008 during a perilous time in retail. A year later, he was asked to become CEO.

Brick joined a “struggling” brand as he tightened up spending, sold off its Cecil Gee and Hugo Boss franchises and concentrated on Moss' core business.

The brand took the decision to drop ‘Bros’ and be known simply as Moss.
The brand took the decision to drop ‘Bros’ and be known simply as Moss.

The turning point came during COVID. “Everybody said suits will be dead and nobody will go back to offices — I didn’t agree with that,” admits Brick. “Our view was how the landscape would change.

“Our business is very event driven with great business for weddings, Ascot, black tie … We have developed some great casualwear, softened some of our suits and used our expertise in tailoring to develop new ranges and business is very good.”

According to Moss’ research, its consumer age ranges from 25-40. But the business also does considerable business during teen prom season and sees a pick up in student graduation sales.

Brick admits Moss was largely a “suit warehouse” pre-pandemic, before becoming “much more of a lifestyle business” in made-to-order and reinvesting in its hire business. “We have put ourselves in a different position and more towards what the customer is looking for,” he adds.

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Brick is driven by a customer-centric business and tells a story of one customer who purchased a suit for her “lanky teenage son who was dreading his prom”.

“They went into our Kingston store and she said it was like putting on his Superman suit,” Brick recounts. “She said he looked amazing and didn't come back until really late and had the best time ever. That’s because of Moss, she said.

“Every week we get lots of compliments and it’s easy these days to get the CEO’s email address. Sometimes it doesn’t go well and I might get an email at 11pm and will always reply within half an hour of seeing it and write that we will put it right. I will copy in the area manager of that store and say they will phone tomorrow morning and deal with it.”

Moss says it offers a much broader offer than just ‘hire’ and has a rebranded and redesigned look and feel.
Moss says it offers a much broader offer than just ‘hire’ and has a rebranded and redesigned look and feel.

Moss has pivoted away from promotional discounts and now has one annual sale for four weeks over Christmas. “It’s not a race to the bottom on price for us, it’s about value for us. Value isn’t a price point, it’s about perception,” adds Brick.

Around 20% of Moss’ business is digital, with an element of sales coming from abroad. “We have stores in the West End and we are a destination but we aren’t a well-known brand in different territories,” adds Brick.

“But we have aspirations and there is potential to grow the business internationally. Particularly with the latest catalogue rendition, the look and feel of the stores, we feel like there is a great opportunity.”

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Moss’ heritage has included the retailer holding a license with Royal Ascot to create collections since 2003. “I go to Ascot to stock take,” smiles Brick. “I’m about the stores and I’m interested in what our customers are doing."

With the brand continuing its retail expansion plans and opening in Edinburgh’s St James Quarter, Brick says Moss can reach 130 stores over the next four to five years. It’s a vision which seemed like a pipe dream over 15 years ago when Brick took over and Moss was showing a pre-tax loss of £3m.

As a British heritage brand, the Moss Bros name goes back to 1851. Photo: Moss
As a British heritage brand, the Moss Bros name goes back to 1851. Photo: Moss

“The numbers didn’t look good and I’m proud of the fact that not only are we still around, but we are more relevant than the business has been for a long time,” he says.

“And that shows in the numbers and the look and feel of the business. The key is that we are on a journey and you never get to the destination. You have to keep reinventing.”

Behind the brand: Moss CEO on…

Long-term vision

“We’re very long term and one of the beauties of taking the business private [the owner of Crew Clothing completed a £22.6m acquisition in 2020] I have two major shareholders and myself and my CFO, they both understand the retail business. We had a good board as a PLC but you can’t make the same long-term investments as a small PLC as you can when you are a private business. As long as you think you can make that return, if it takes a bit longer that’s fine.”

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