5 Minutes With Carolyn Springett, CEO, New & Lingwood

Founded in 1865 and operating from two stores in its hometown Eton as well as London's world-famous Jermyn Street, New & Lingwood is a luxury menswear brand that has been worn by a growing list of celebrities. We spoke to chief executive Carolyn Springett about her ambitions for the label and some of the issues facing UK retail.

New & Lingwood CEO
(Photographer: Kim Lang/The Rake)

New & Lingwood’s Jermyn Street store in London recently underwent renovation. Can you describe some of the changes?

Our aim was always to create a refreshed version of the beloved original New & Lingwood store rather than do a radical new design. We wanted to enhance the personality, character and premium feel of the brand and ensure the store lived up to and was in sync with the brand promise, the new website, the product and our marketing campaign.

The new design introduces more natural light into store, both upstairs and down, introduces more retail theatre into the store and sees New & Lingwood’s footwear collection relocated to its rightful area on the ground floor, creating a shoe shop with a new separate entrance from Piccadilly Arcade.

We have also transformed our small store into an opulent silk and gown store, deliberately choosing fittings and furnishings that tell a story in line with the larger store – helping our customers understand they are both part of the same brand and for them to cross shop across the two stores.

We’ve also kept the original “sock wall” and other original display cabinets, the old penny farthing, along with all the original letters and artworks that relate to our Eton-based, 152-year heritage.

What are you excited about the most in the new store?

We are particularly excited about joining together our two stores at the end of the Piccadilly Arcade and creating mini shopping destinations within the store: a shoe store, a tailoring room, a silk and gown store, and a shirt and accessories department, making shopping easier for our customers.

What does it feel like to be part of a heritage retailer? 

It’s fantastic. New & Lingwood’s roots are quintessentially English, and that sense of Englishness is still widely admired and desired globally. This is a great springboard to the next stage of the brand’s journey and expansion.

We have an incredibly loyal clientele who are very important to us, but we have to ensure that we keep moving forwards and start reaching out to new customers.

The work we have done in the store and to our new website is a fundamental part of enabling us to attract new customers and deliver on their expectations.

New & Lingwood has had the privilege of being worn by many celebrities. What’s it like seeing your products being worn by them?

It is always good to see New & Lingwood being worn by high-profile people. However, while it is always exciting, these people come to us because we treat them as we would any of our customers. We maintain a high level of discretion regarding our high profile customers and they are loyal to us because of this fact.

How is New & Lingwood addressing some of the challenges facing the UK retail sector as a whole?

We have made great progress in the last year, both in store and online, when we know many of our competitors have found it tough going. We put this down to focusing on developing our unique brand identity and proposition, not compromising on product in any way, ensuring what we sell represents great value and offers a unique choice that customers will not easily find elsewhere.

Making the product easy to shop and style is key and we have always done this well in the store. We now also have a website that is easy to navigate and shop from and we are working on functionality to enhance our styling ability, content and the richness of the experience so customers feel equally at home while either in the store or on the website.

Tell us a bit about your role as chief executive of New & Lingwood. 

My responsibility as chief executive of New & Lingwood is to take our wonderful small brand that has been hidden from view for decades and start to get people sitting up and taking notice of us and them talking about who we are and what we do.

We are well-known to a small group of loyal customers in the UK and my job is to use this firm foundation as a stepping stone to expand the brand internationally. I am here to not only build the brand, but to create a commercial success of it working with the right partners both here in the UK and internationally who can help us on that journey.

I am also here for the people that work for the brand – to ensure that they are excited about the journey that we’re on and motivated to continue that expansion.

What got you into the retail sector in the first place?

I have been in retail since I started my career. I started life focused on the design and creative side of the business but found that the commercial side not only interested me, but that I really enjoyed it. I found I gravitated towards that, initially working in large public corporate high street businesses, then moving into smaller more premium privately owned businesses, ultimately working more in the luxury sector and being involved with private equity.

I enjoy it because I can apply my creative experience and knowledge to working with product and textiles, which I love, but can also apply that creativity to developing and driving the commercial side of the business.

How has your previous experience aided your current job?

One of our unique selling points is the diversity of product categories that we sell and as such, while we are still a small business, we are complex for our size. In my role, being able to deliver is key and having had a broad experience of a variety of business types and models has meant that I have been able to adapt, change and flex what we need to do and how we should do it to deliver the task in hand.

What I have brought with me is energy, a vision of where we are going and what needs to be done to get us there, the ability to communicate with the whole team top to bottom and externally with a wide variety of people and organisations – which is vital when a business is fast growing and requires change and the attitude that if a job needs doing, I am not too big to roll up my sleeves and do whatever needs to be done.

What is the most challenging aspect of your job?

New & Lingwood is a small business with big ambitions and this means there is constant juggling of priorities, resource and budgets to deliver our objectives. When a business is undergoing change, it is important to take the team with you and fly the flag for the brand with a wide variety of third parties. Clear and concise communication is key to getting things done, contextualising where we are going, what we are doing, how we are doing it whilst at the same time enthusing and motivating or being prepared to make the tough decisions and following them through.

And the most rewarding?

It is fantastic to see the business and team respond positively to the initiatives that we are putting in place and see the business developing and growing.

Can you talk about any other projects that you’re working on?

Our focus has already had to move on to our next objective which is opening a small store in New York. We already have a high number of loyal customers based in New York who shop online or when in London, so we are confident there is a base to build on.

We have decided to go the pop-up route in order to test the market and manage any potential risk. Taking our newly established store/brand identity and launch that in another market will be both exciting and challenging as it will be another first for the brand – and another step on the journey.

What advice would you give someone who is considering embarking on a career in retail?

Follow your passion. Working with a brand you love and have an empathy with is very important. You have to be innovative, committed and prepared to work hard. You need to keep informed and know what is happening throughout the retail market.

What are your thoughts on the lack of women in CEO/Managing Director positions in the UK retail sector?

In my view, retail business models are still quite traditional, relying heavily on a combination of experience and expertise to deliver its senior people. Retail also has quite a traditional view of leadership and the qualities that make a leader.

The industry needs to focus on improving flexibility, adaptability and empowerment, which will in turn support women on their career journey and help remove the types of obstacles that have stopped more women progressing in the past.

What would you say is the biggest risk for the retail sector, given the current climate?

It certainly appears that political uncertainty had led to a dampening of consumer confidence on the UK high street, albeit at New & Lingwood we have seen an increase in the proportion of international customers and an increase in their spend with us due to exchange rates.

Pricing will continue to be a key discussion. At New & Lingwood we do not source outside of the UK and Europe so while we have seen a negative impact in the cost of some of our goods, this is relatively contained.

However, for any retailers that purchase a high proportion of their goods overseas, there will continue to be a debate about whether to increase retail prices or absorb the loss into margins. Longer term, the things that will clearly be areas of concern are the retail sector’s traditional reliance on non-UK workers and what will happen with international trade deals.

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