The Menswear Style Podcast

Simon Whitaker, Founder of Master Debonair

February 08, 2021 Menswear Style Episode 114
The Menswear Style Podcast
Simon Whitaker, Founder of Master Debonair
Chapters
The Menswear Style Podcast
Simon Whitaker, Founder of Master Debonair
Feb 08, 2021 Episode 114
Menswear Style

Master Debonair is about being effortlessly stylish. The brand offers a collection of clothing and accessories for the modern British gentleman. They're an award-winning family independent menswear retailer with classic values, great service, quality apparel and exceptional customers. Master Debonair originated in the North East of England and is for gentlemen who're looking for styles with a little twist, and something a little different from the High Street mass-produced apparel. Their aim is to provide a personal touch by speaking and listening to their valued customers.

In this episode of the MenswearStyle Podcast we interview Simon Whitaker, Founder of Master Debonair about his background working in sales & marketing, and the founding story of his menswear brand which stocks branded sartorial clothing and accessories.  Simon had always dreamed of opening his own bricks & mortar space and took his business plan to the bank when the time was right. Our host Peter Brooker and Simon also talk about the power of social media, being dubbed as the Peaky Blinders brand, why their DIY approach to photography has been well-received, and whether tailoring will boom after lockdown.

Whilst we have your attention, be sure to sign up to our daily MenswearStyle newsletter here. We promise to only send you the good stuff.

Show Notes Transcript

Master Debonair is about being effortlessly stylish. The brand offers a collection of clothing and accessories for the modern British gentleman. They're an award-winning family independent menswear retailer with classic values, great service, quality apparel and exceptional customers. Master Debonair originated in the North East of England and is for gentlemen who're looking for styles with a little twist, and something a little different from the High Street mass-produced apparel. Their aim is to provide a personal touch by speaking and listening to their valued customers.

In this episode of the MenswearStyle Podcast we interview Simon Whitaker, Founder of Master Debonair about his background working in sales & marketing, and the founding story of his menswear brand which stocks branded sartorial clothing and accessories.  Simon had always dreamed of opening his own bricks & mortar space and took his business plan to the bank when the time was right. Our host Peter Brooker and Simon also talk about the power of social media, being dubbed as the Peaky Blinders brand, why their DIY approach to photography has been well-received, and whether tailoring will boom after lockdown.

Whilst we have your attention, be sure to sign up to our daily MenswearStyle newsletter here. We promise to only send you the good stuff.

Unknown:

Hello, and welcome to another episode of the men's wear style podcast. I'm Pete Brooker and on this episode I'm going to talk to Simon Whittaker, CEO of master debonair, and master debonair is about being effortlessly stylish, bringing together a collection of clothes and accessories for the modern British gentlemen. They are a family independent menswear clothing retailer with classic values, great service, quality clothing and exceptional customers. Master debonair originated in the northeast of England and was born of people who wanted styles with a little twist, something a little different from their high street mass produced styles. And you can find out more about the brand and also shop the look through the website app Master debonair.com. And here is Simon to tell the story of master debonair. Well, as my dad used to say, long story short, because I've worn on to how sort of masters debonair came about, I lost I've just mentioned my dad, I lost my dad in November 2015. Quite suddenly, it was only 64 it was a very dapper chap, independent financial adviser, he always going to work, he'd always have a three piece suit on. So really always looks like a style and when I look back at your photographs when I was when I was younger as well, when he always dressed really well. And like I said, he talked a lot about his claws and stuff like that. So So when he dies, I was actually when we were planning to go to the funeral. I didn't want to just go in a black suit, that a black tie, that kind of thing. I wanted to look for some some accessories. So something a little bit different. So pocket square, tie clips, lapel pin, that kind of thing. And so I went all over and and I went over to Newcastle, where basically based in April, we live in work in a form. And I went over to Newcastle I couldn't find anything. Eventually I went into one of the big brands and I've still got the pocket square, the tie clip and the pedal pin there. But it just didn't really I was a bit disappointed. And I just really wanted to add some pieces for external. And I've always wanted I talked I talked for many years about setting my own business. I worked in a number of companies over the years in sales and marketing and so have quite a successful career in sales and marketing and sales director in my previous business, which was a huge organisation global business turned over 400 million pounds. So really good, good career, but I always wanted to do something like myself. And I kind of asked my wife said you know, how about how about sell the business and and we were sure some some tie clips, lapel pins, pocket squares, that kind of thing. Like I mentioned before, a lot of experience in sales and marketing but never run my own business. Always look clothes. always wore three t shirts at work. If it was dressed down there, my dress down there was, you know, a waist cord blazer shirt and tie with a pair of jeans. That was kind of my my dress down. And that's how I really started it was because there wasn't anything out there in the marketplace that I just thought was a little bit different. So I sourced those things from accessories. And it kind of snowballed from there. I ended up building a website, which I've never built a website before. So I built it from scratch. And we found a supplier we ended up going and mortar which which was the old trade show in Birmingham, which is no longer is no longer gone now. So this was in early 2016. And found a couple of suppliers for for Suits, Shirts, and choose and it kind of snowballs. That was a kind of a build a website. I went to the bank, I went with a business plan and then I don't think I've ever seen such a comprehensive business plan that I've put forward for sales is 10,000 pounds a year that I was I was forecasting. Think because of my experience of putting together a sales budget of 20 million it was easy to put together that kind of sales budget, borrowed some money. And we went the website went live late, I think pretty much the last day of February 2016. And we just instantly saw saw sales. Both the we knew social media was going to play A big part in in Moscow. So we've built up some some great traction on social media with the brand already. So we launched, we launched massive m&a on social media around about the December 2015. Time, and just really pour some some looks that we really liked. And it just went, it just went crazy. You know, we just got a relatively big following about 5000 likes on Facebook pretty much straight away. And that's how build up the launch to the website. So that that was that that was from Day Zero to them to launch day in February. So very quickly from my dad's dying in November 2015. To launch in in in February 2016. Wow. Okay, great. And the stores so we have two stores open currently, when did the brick and mortar start to come along? Yeah, well, like I mentioned before, I'd always wanted to set a business up. And I always wanted a shot. My background in marketing was more digital marketing. But I did see I did work with a lot of short omni channel, retailers as well in different sectors. And the bricks and mortar really interested me and kinda a lot of places, whether it was hotels or restaurants, where it was more destinations, and something a little bit different. I remember going to the hospital club in London and singing Wow, that's, that's a that's a different hotel, you know, places like that. And, and I kind of wanted a coffee shop, you know, if anybody follows me on social media, I don't talk about anything else other than close coffee and my dogs, my three Rottweilers, my family unfortunately, even though a lot of them don't get a lock in. It's those things that I always wanted to show up. I always wanted, I'd always worked business to business or never business to consumer. But I always wanted that great shop environment. And we looked around in our village, I mentioned before a spoon. And there's not too many shops here, or, you know, there's a couple of parades of shops, and we've got sort of Newcastle six mile, and we've got some in five miles. So we're bang in the middle of that. And what was a little bit of a struggle was getting suppliers because they looked on a map. And so when you're in a little village, Why will we sell it to you as a retailer? Anyway, we found a shop and again, no history is a shop designer shop fit. And with my wife, she's she's kind of the creative arm of the business. It would be white walls, if it was if it was down to me, where there's like when I came in, when it was been designed and built a kind of this grass, like, you know, on the on the walls and all kinds going on. And that was it. We so it took about six weeks to convert from quite a clear shot and it was only 800 square feet put up the time, we were more worried about how we're going to fill it what products and we were opening and because of social media would build that much of a presence online. on the Saturday when we opened we were still painting the skirting boards, you know, kind of midnight on the Friday or on the Saturday should I say and we didn't have any stock in hours I was barcode and I was stuck at home. And we didn't get any stock into the shop on the Saturday at 6pm. And it kind of again, it just went very quickly. It's been the same throughout our trading history where we found a shop and then six weeks later we're in a shop and I'm serving customers in a shop and that's how it came about. But it was so busy on the first weekend. You know, we couldn't believe that people were travelling from London and Scotland and all over the place because the wanted to come to the shop. And and it was just crazy. And this I'll go through the shops Chesterfield, we, we we we actually move into Chesterfield, not long before COVID Hey actually, so we moved in there. November 2019. We did have a shop in Spitalfields book COVID we had a close up because the city was was just pretty much dead. Chesterfield, we've, since moving into the original shop in November 2019, we actually move locations to a biggest shop. So I'm actually starting our private showroom and he's born, we needed that kind of hallmarks, debonair feeling the Chesterfield shop as well. The original shop was more of a showroom plan, where we're really trying to develop the brand and we'd launched casual wear as well as formal wear. So we really wanted to house all our products in Chesterfield as well. And in baseball, now he's gone from 800 square feet in the last five years to two and a half, 1000 square feet. We've now got we You've now got a three story building, which I'm setting now. And we knock through from the original shop. So two terraced houses. So we've got two terraced houses now so it's kind of evolved from there. So we really started off we were really known as, as the suit shop. But there's much more that's come along in the last five years. And where do you source the fabrics and who does the designs? Maybe you can talk a little bit about the clothes Yeah, we don't we did. We, we did launch our own brands in in terms of formal wear, just just before COVID which was probably wasn't wasn't a good time. But again, you know, we were sourcing fabrics. We work with a UK based company, as well, who worked with a lot of the multiple retailers, but we mainly work when we when we started I've always had a particular look. We always go to court is Peaky Blinders and I've still to this day and not seen Peaky Blinders I think I should probably watch it. See, I actually went to a Peaky Blinders charity night and I had a Google search how they dressed. And I was like, all right, okay, I say the comparison now. So it kinda, we've posed like that 100 distinctness look. So it was more about sourcing, existing brands, to be honest, less well known brands that will probably very well known now in the independent independent retail channel. So we've gone from sort of stuck in, stuck in existing brands more into our own brand. And then we've gone back to, we've gone back to existing brands, again, purely because of COVID. But we again, we've got a very distinct look, if anybody comes along for a clean, so we haven't got clean suits, but we do tend to send them off to the likes of other retailers who will when we talk about being differentiated by detail, our product has to have detail. So we work with all UK best suppliers. And it's made to measure people come in for suits and made No, it's not. We have just launched our custom tailoring service. And that is done extremely well. We launched that when we came out in the first lockdown in June 2000. And June 2020, in 2021. No and so and we've done very well with that. So guys coming in choosing the fabrics, choosing the fits, choosing the finishing. And that's been a really good service that we've launched for we predominantly our business is is is off the peg, but what we what we what we do have, we do have our own in house tailoring service. So we've got tailors in house. I also that was extremely important for us. Because one thing that unrecognised when we were when we set the business up and very early on that there was a lot of guys coming to us who, you know, we always get to do anything for the big guys. And actually they're not big, it's average sizes. And I think because the see with other retailers kinda, you know, a slimmer members demographic. So with the tailoring service, we can like, you know, whether it's taken blazes in coaxing, we've reconstructed blazers, we've actually made blazers from two blazers, and khairpur and everything else. So we got some phenomenal tailors in house. But yes, we've also got our custom tailoring service. Interesting. And then the tailoring in houses that provide a bespoke service. So you've got cousins in the can Northey certainly can could make a full suit but we outsource that. So we do work with we do work with our partner so we will take all the measurements and everything else but we the guys can certainly if if I asked them to knit me a suit, they could absolutely make me a suit and it will be extremely special and not planned it's a lot of fun following you on Instagram I mean so many great looks on there and people and it's a very you're very front of house with everything coming on the way Yeah, yeah, you know, it kind of I didn't want to be if I'm kinda you know, it just happened to be that way when we launched master debonair obviously we weren't using models. We weren't use next day, external photographers or anything or in house photographers. It was myself, my wife and a couple of members of part time staff who, you know, we were using an iPhone, it we were using an iPhone for our website photographs and you know what, like, the website in its first year turned over something like 100,000 pounds. You know, so this was without using professional photography and, and you know, we've kind of, we've gone full circle a little bit and probably do a COVID, where I think our customers love to see normal people. And you can obviously tell by my accent, you know, I'm from the northeast, I'm a very down to earth person is kinda we're not pretentious or anything, I do reply on social media, I do keep an eye on things. It just naturally I was front of house for a long time. And then we brought our in house marketing team. And we were outsourcing things, and we'll bring in models, but we're COVID, we've actually gone back to basics. And I've had to be front of house for the last 10 months, because obviously, you know, we've really had to be careful with any kind of photoshoots or anything like that. But what I've learned is that it, people just resonate with me as well. But we also we get the staff involved. Now, when we came out of the first lockdown, you'll see more of the shop staff. And that's that's important because a lot of people who follow us on social media and we've got a great engage in the following you know, who you know, we're on first name terms with everybody. And they like to see the likes of Robin, abou and Lou and Gail, and Callum in Chesterfield, and Naomi and people before, so they'll do the research on social. And then they'll come into the shops, and it's almost like the Norse before they come in. Yeah. And I like that. So we'll probably use, we've took the decision to use less models, but more friends of Master devonatural people who we love and people who love the brand. And do it that way. And it means we all get to enjoy it. And we all like each other kind of thing. Yeah, I feel I guess feels like a community that everyone kind of knows. And we Yeah, yes. I had a conversation a couple of weeks ago of a gentleman called Philip start. Who runs mister start down in London? Yeah, maybe maybe Yeah. And I said to him pretty much the same thing. I think there's a great demand for this kind of accessibility, where you see someone that's doing the photos themselves, the Instagram videos themselves, and whether it's budget requirements, or whether it's COVID, or whatever it is, it just feels like there's a deeper connection because you're kind of relating to the everyday person, and it's their brand. And if they're passionate about it, I think it's important. Because, you know, I talk a lot now about the products actually been secondary. You know, I was struck by in his outfit and self confidence, and that's what it's about, but it's also about, you know, we I try and get across, you know, where and how our where our products and you know, that mixes, whether it's formal wear a casual wear smart casual, but I think it's important, you know, I learned a lot from from when I was working in digital marketing as well unfollowed a lot of brands, and when I was actually taught now, but when I was drinking, one of my favourite brands was the Caledonian brewery, so juke is really based in Edinburgh. And it was it was crazy with them. So they actually invited me over for my 40th birthday. And for it, this one's my 40th birthday is a brewery. And it looked after me and give me a tour. And I took that. And I thought, that's what I want a master debonair, I want I want people to customers to come in, and be like assignment in a day. And I'm always here, if I'm here, you know, I've always got the time of day. And like I said, I'll be up till midnight replying to some people, some people follow me on my personal social, and I'll help them that way. And I just think it's important. So like, we do share content, where it's like, it's me out for a coffee, or the guy's out for a coffee, me cycling or whatever. Because ultimately, our customers are real people who do all these things as well. And it's a bit more exciting than just just just clothes. You know, it's, it's good to have that. But, you know, we it's just getting more involved with the brand. Yeah, gives it a narrative as well. Yeah, got it. Somebody's got a question from Craig, our editor, he wanted to ask you, do you think there'll be an uptick in tailoring once we come out of lockdown? Do you think people will feel the urge to start dressing Yeah, pay more attention to clothes again? I'm absolutely 100% I mean, obviously, we've been like every retail have massively in the clothing, industry, hospitality and everything else. But yes, I do. I think there's a real appetite. And I go, you know, I'm not just the I tend not the best things just based on my thoughts alone. Our customers who I speak to who contact us. You know, we can't wait we've already got a lot of appointments in our diary for weddings or Already, I have no doubt problems or comeback on recent assume degree. Once the hospitality industry opens back up again, I do think it's going to be it's really what I've said for the last six months is it's about limping through now. But I think there's going to be sure pent up demand to people wanting to go out and enjoy themselves. So absolutely, yes, Craig Yeah, and and I can't wait. I can't wait to get people into the the shops again. And you know, and really help them get started. So yeah, I do. I absolutely do. Good news, and I hope so. So yeah. Do you think with people staying in lockdown? Yes. Yeah, we're watching a heck of a lot of Telly, people. I know I am. So yeah, from experience. I'm paying a lot of attention to clothes that I'm seeing on the telly. I see this guy looks and nails in this. I see how Yeah, outside of Peaky Blinders. Have you had any requests of people coming to you and said, Look, I've seen this. Can you do something like that? Not Not Not. See, we we ultimately try and create that, you know, I like to push out. The one movie that I watched recently, which which, which, which I really liked it. I thought was quite funny as well was the gentleman. Oh, yeah. Yeah. You know, and the way they were dressed. I just thought there was there's some great styles in there. Yeah. But like it. Yeah, we do we get there. It tends to be, I think because we've always pushed out looks where it has been a little bit different. So we've gone with a lot of contrast and waistcoats over the years. I like different cuts in waist course. So we've ultimately tried to like look ahead, rather than anybody coming to us. But there's there's always something that we can do if somebody comes to us with a look that the guy's you know what I've said to the guy to work for us, listen, if you just want to serve a customer, then and not give them advice and everything else, then I would suggest we're probably not the right retailer for you. Because our customers come in and they can spend up to two hours in the in the shop, you know, you can come in the shop and you can kind of hang out with poor more by a phone charging stations in and then seating areas and all kinds. But we do we will go through, you're almost getting we have launched a one to one personal styling session as well. But you almost get that if you want it when you come in the shop. So yeah, we do get and that's why the custom tailoring service was important as well, because guys do come in and say listen, I want an orange westcourt Have you got one? Well, No, we haven't. But guess what we can with the custom tailoring service. So yeah, I do think we're gonna get a lot. We always get people coming in the shops getting the forms out and showing us an image we've posted on on social media and saying, Can I have the outfit please? Great. Yeah, well, that's a great way to leverage social media. I believe it's for brands when I was working in retail, I mean, it was one of the only ways because like you I I was running of a clothing shop and independent clothing store in Cambridgeshire, but it was it was in the middle of yaks. We didn't have Yeah, footfall. So yeah, just to marketing was the only way we can get any notice out. Absolutely. And without, like Instagram, you know, and but we're praying for days and like making things like we're looking at in a calendar and go, what can we talked about? How do we wrap this into some kind of fashion idea? It was, it was all through, like the websites and e commerce. You know, I love that there's some great stories like, obviously, with COVID, you still can do click and collect. And we're looking at another shop at the minute that might come off and might not over in Sherman. So it's not too far from here. But it's it's just on the outskirts of the city centre. And I've been looking at it for two years, and I'm on Samsung. And so I think we'd like to take that on. And there's a lovely little women's wear shop in the place that we're looking at. And they didn't they didn't have any social media before COVID. And they had no experience in digital marketing whatsoever. And all of those donors set the Facebook page up, and then decided to go and do live videos on Facebook. And they said you wouldn't believe what it's done for their business to get them through COVID will click and click and they said you know what, we make loads of mistakes and everything like that. And I'm like, That's brilliant. You real? No, don't do polished. You know, we've been doing that. And I get wrong to saying the same things over this time repeating myself, but, you know, that's part of the fun element of it. So it's great for hours with any independent retailers. Definitely, you know, advice. You don't need to know what you're doing. just test it. Get out there. Get on social And drive footfall that way when we reopen our shops Simon, it's been wonderful talking to you. Good to speak to you at master debonair on Instagram where people can follow you follow the journey and I really recommend it's there's a great realism of your brand and also gritty Master debonair.com the place people go to shop and have a look at some of the wonderful clothes just having a look. So Sunderland aren't in championship either. You didn't have to mention that. Did you? know Yeah, no, no, no, no. It just feels like yesterday. You're in the Premier League. Thanks, thanks. Strangely enough, I was watching a clip of something in the Premiership or that popped up on social media. And I was like, you've got to be kidding. Yeah. Well, hopefully we're going to be taken over soon. and blah, blah, blah. We'll be in this division for the next five seasons of kind of, you know, it's just gonna be that way. I hope you bounce back up, but I missed the beta. We need the derbies. We need you. Yeah, definitely it is, you know, it's good partner. It is. It really is. Great nights. Thanks. Thanks for thanks very much. Bye Bye now. Bye. Thank you, Simon. And apologies for bringing up the stats on Sunderland's lead position there, I'm sure they'll be back playing with the big boys sometime soon. Thank you for tuning into this episode of The menswear style podcast. If you like what you hear, why not leave a review it does help our egos. Don't forget to check out the show notes for this episode and all content pertaining to fashion watches, travel, lifestyle, etc. Over at menswear. style.co uk and we're on the social as well. At menswear style. If you want to be a guest on the show, tell us about your brand. Tell us about your journey. You can email us here at info at menswear style dot code at UK and until next time