5 Minutes With Simon Whitaker, CEO, Master Debonair

Founded in February 2016, Master Debonair has made a name for itself thanks to its modern take on heritage tweed suits. The Geordie brand has successfully capitalised on a menswear niche and recently opened its first store in London. We had a chat with chief executive Simon Whitaker.

Master Debonair

Tell me about the Master Debonair story.

In 2015, I sadly lost my father Bob very suddenly. My dad was a popular, dapper chap and I wanted to look my best for the funeral. After walking around Newcastle for hours searching for a beautiful tie clip and pocket square, I left disappointed. One store had the right style but not the right colour. Another store had the right colour but not the right style.

I spoke to my wife Eve a few months later and said “I think I’d like to source some men’s accessories as I just can’t find what I want”. We thought of a name, and Master Debonair was born with a few accessories, a Facebook page, and some inspirational looks that we both loved. The website launched and with a small amount of stock we had customers visiting our home to buy (which wasn’t ideal with three Rottweilers!).

Quickly it was clear to us that we needed a physical store and we opened one where we live, in East Boldon. Initially, we had only planned for me to be in the store selling a few suits now and again, but it didn’t quite work out like that and we had people queuing outside of the door before we opened.

The one aspect that we have never changed is our ethos: our belief of differentiating by detail and welcoming everyone into Master Debonair. Be that staff, suppliers, or of course, customers, whom we want to feel comfortable as if they were coming into our home when they shop.

Eve always says “I want people to feel better about themselves when they leave the store. Clothes can be your armour when needed and whatever size or shape you are, you can feel great in the right fitting clothes”.

Congrats on the new store in London!

Thank you, before opening our store in London we originally we had one store in East Boldon and a showroom.

“A lot of people say this but ironically I’ve never watched Peaky Blinders. This is just my style.”

The London store came at the right time and it was an excellent opportunity to test our market.

Is it safe to say that your style of fashion has been given a boost thanks to the popularity of Peak Blinders?

A lot of people say this but ironically I’ve never watched the show. This is just my style, I don’t think you would get a Peaky in a floral shirt and slim fitting jeans, would you?

What gap in the UK retail market does Master Debonair strive to address?

We believe every gentleman deserves self-confidence. This is something that we aim to deliver through the products we sell and through the experience in store. We love seeing our customers wearing their clothes, feeling confident and happy in the way that they look.

How is Master Debonair’s business model different to its main competitors?

To be entirely honest, I’m not too sure what our main competitor’s business models are. Generally, we don’t like to compare ourselves to other companies or strive to be like anyone else. Our soul focus is our customers and being true to our brand, it’s as simple as that.

What’s in store for Master Debonair for 2019?

What we can tell you is that we will be opening more stores but the rest is secret so you’ll just have to watch this space.

How is Master Debonair addressing some of the challenges facing the retail industry as a whole?

We are always relentlessly striving for continuous improvement and never being satisfied. I think it’s important to start every day as a new day from zero and take nothing for granted.

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

The biggest risks facing us at the moment is definitely high overheads and the effect that this has on businesses as a whole. For independents, I think that it’s important to embrace multichannel marketing, not being seen or heard in this space can really affect your business.

“Our soul focus is our customers and being true to our brand, it’s as simple as that.”

Describe your role and responsibilities at Master Debonair.

As the chief executive a bit of everything falls at my door. I am mainly responsible for the financial and buying areas of the business, as well as the day to day operations. When it comes to the creative elements though I leave that to Eve.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your background beforehand.

Before opening Master Debonair I was a sales director and graduated with an engineering degree. My wife Eve was a marketing consultant with a degree in accountancy. We are both very different but it’s a great mix. Neither of us had any retail experience prior to setting up Master Debonair, but with our combined skills set and an ambition with products that you are passionate about it’s just worked.

How has your previous experience aided your current job?

We’re both very open minded and I think that because we’re both eager to consistently learn it makes the job enjoyable. As I mentioned previously our mix of skills sets has proved invaluable.

What is the most challenging aspect of your job?

I’d say the most challenging aspect of the job at the moment is managing growth, but we’re learning. As we continue to hire even more great talent and structure teams that will take us forward I’m sure this will become second nature.

And the most rewarding?

It’s always brilliant to receive messages and feedback from customers telling us how great they feel in their new clothes or that they had an exceptional experience in one of our stores from our staff.

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

I’d say go for it, make a plan and then just go for it, as long as you don’t think it’s an easy life. Eve and I have never worked so hard but we wouldn’t change it, it’s the best decision that we have ever made and I’m excited to see what the future brings for us.

Click here to sign up to Retail Gazette‘s free daily email newsletter