50 years in Norwich Menswear
- Credit: Simon Finlay
Darren Hoggett is co-owner of J&B Menswear, the men’s clothing shop in Norwich which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year
Q Please tell us a little about the story of J&B Menswear and how it has developed over the past 50 years.
A My father Brian set up the business with his partner John Draper (hence the J and B) on the outdoor markets, and by the 1970s we had several rounds covering Norfolk and north Suffolk. Our current site was opened in 1972 and expanded in 1980, though is almost unrecognisable from those days. When I started working full time in the late 1980s, it didn’t take long to realise that the sides of the business were heading in different directions and this was compounded by the early 1990s’ recession. So in the mid ‘90s we bought J&B outright and I was running the business at the age of 24, with help from my brother and father. The internet was the biggest game-changer - we introduced a site in 2000, but we were too ahead of the game to be effective. We reintroduced it at the end of 2013 and by the end of this year, it will account for about a third of our turnover.
Q Can you tell us about the range of brands you stock and how you have developed this in recent years?
A We have developed the business to become an upper middle market store. We have heritage brands like Levi’s, Fred Perry and Lee, coupled with labels such as Remus Uomo and Matinique, that offer a point of difference and are exclusive in Norwich to our store. Quality is paramount when looking to take new brands on board; our customers want items that are durable and have lasting quality that become wardrobe essentials.
Q You have remained an independent, family-run business through those five decades – what are the advantages of having that independence when you are competing with the national chains?
A Department stores and multiples tend to be too centralised in their buying, do not take enough consideration of the local market and, in my experience, offer little to nothing in engaging with their customers. That immediately places us at an advantage. With our experience and knowledge, we meet the needs of our customers in product and personal service we offer, which the J&B brand is well known for. We have created our own niche in Norwich as a destination store that sells quality clothing with service to match, with a strong, regular clientele that keep coming back.
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Q How do you feel Norwich stands in the men’s style stakes – do you think we have a vibrant fashion scene in the city?
A Norwich has always been a relatively conservative city. It is not a Brighton, Manchester or London, so the city has generally followed fashion, rather than lead, and that does factor into our buying to a degree. However, there has always been a certain quirkiness about it and we are always progressive with our buy every season to push the boundaries without stepping over them.
Q What is the most enjoyable aspect for you in running J&B Menswear – and what do you think your customers like most about the store?
A Buying forward collections has always been a favourite of mine. There’s a certain art in being a buyer of having the eye to know what will work and what will not, and that all comes with experience.
Q So Darren, what is J&B Menswear’s “Big Idea” for building on the past 50 years and taking forward men’s clothing and style in Norfolk and further afield?
A I think the next five years will shape the next 50. Online shopping is growing at such a pace that you will see even fewer independents in primary locations, as they become mainly online entities and are replaced by more brands’ own stores as they continue their push towards a full integrated operation (manufacturing and retailing). As we are already in a secondary location with low overheads, we are very much the future. As long as we remain pro-active in our approach and putting the customer first with our usual caveats on quality and service, there will always be a J&B.
J&B Menswear, Magdalen Road, Norwich, NR3 4LB; 01603 424929; www.jandbmenswear.com