Based in Barrowford in Lancashire, Scruples Menswear is a family run company spanning 2 generations. Owner Stephen Collins explains how taking a gamble helped him create a high-end fashion business and has given him a career he’s as passionate about today as he was when he set up shop 30 years ago.
“I started Scruples in 1984. I was as an engineer for Roll Royce but I’d always wanted to work for myself. So when the opportunity to take redundancy came up, I took it, and used the £6,500 pay off to set up the company.
“My sister was already running Scruples ladieswear and had a good knowledge of the rag trade, so I rented the space above for Scruples menswear. It was a huge gamble – I’d invested my life savings, plus my redundancy, and I had a wife and 3 children to support. Sometimes I’d go in on a Monday and wouldn’t take a penny until Thursday."
“I went into it completely blind, really, but it’s been a fantastic journey. I’ve been lucky, I met the right people who helped me to buy the right collections and ranges. I started off selling shirts that cost £10, and now my cheapest is £100. The cheapest suit is £500 and our shoes go from £200 - £2000.”
From one floor above his sister’s shop, Stephen has expanded the business to cover 3 floors, including an appointment only tailoring showroom where private clients can view clothing from new collections specially selected for them and purchase bespoke suits.
As he explains, the shift from being just a menswear retailer came in the mid-1990s when Italian designers started to have a bigger influence on British shoppers: “It was when we started getting Hugo Boss stock in that we really noticed a difference - within 18 months we were making 5 times the turnover we had previously.
“There was a shift in attitude – men were prepared to pay the price for top quality clothing. It was a new world for us. The limited production and limited number of retailers selling the garments meant you could buy a suit from us and no one else in a 60 mile radius would have the same one.”
At the time, Stephen was running Scruples menswear single-handed with some part time help from his nephew Jan, but with the move into designer collections Jan became a full time member of staff and 3 more employees were added to the team.
Stephen’s son Ryan also later joined the business and father, son and nephew now each have their own portfolio of regular clients for whom they provide styling and tailoring services.
As for the future, Stephen says he has no intention of taking it easy: “I’m 60 now and I’m just as passionate about men’s fashion as I was the day I started. In the last 5 years we’ve opened up a new side of the business, acting as distributors.
“I wanted to have a go at something other than retail, to try wholesale and to help put a collection together. We’re the sole UK agent for an Italian brand called Mancini, we’ve got the collections in about 12 to 14 stores across the UK at the moment. Ultimately what I’d like to do is grow the distribution side so we get involved in distributing to stores in Italy, Germany and Switzerland.”
And Stephen says working with Cassons has helped him to fulfill his dreams for Scruples: “Working with Cassons has been like a partnership in itself. They do everything for us, for the retail and wholesale side of the business, they handle our payroll, VAT, tax, and advise us on import tax issues when we trade with Italy.
“In Les Nutter I’ve not just got an accountant, I’ve got a good friend. When I get an idea in my head, I call him, we go out for lunch and talk him through it. He’s good at slowing me down, at saying ‘Steve, let’s just think about how we’re going to do it.’"
“He helped us move into the distribution side of things, and advised me when I was looking to make Jan a partner and now again that I’m looking to make Ryan a partner."
“Les is realistic, he’s not just a good accountant, he’s a good businessman. If I show him something, he can see the opportunity. You need someone like Les to bounce off – if I can convince him something is a good idea, I know it really is a good idea! He’s given us some great advice."
"It is also very important to me that I receive advice from Cassons on my personal financial planning, as do Jan and Ryan. It's much easier for me that this is done by advisers who also understand the issues and current position of the business."
Les Nutter explained the relationship from his perspective: "I've been advising Steve and his family for many years, and it's a relationship that I treasure. Steve is an entrepreneur at heart, always looking for the next opportunity and not afraid to take risks. He's a great observer and listener and it's these qualities that I believe have endeared him to, and allowed him to build, such a loyal customer base over the years. His protégés, Jan and Ryan, share his customer philosophy and uncanny knack of knowing just what the customer needs; absolutely essential, of course, not just in selling but more so in planning which lines to buy for each new season. The only downside for me is the temptation each time I visit the showroom!!"
Leaving the final word to Steve: “Working with Cassons is brilliant – they’re a fantastic team. The good thing about them is you contact them and they get straight back to you. It’s a big thing for me. Scruples and Cassons have grown together and it’s been great.”
For further details about Scruples Menswear please call 01282 695770 or for more information please visit www.scruplesmenswear.co.uk
Scruples Menswear is a client of Cassons business advisers LLP as well as Cassons Financial Planning Limited.