Lee Cooper CEO Andy Dunkley

Lee Cooper CEO Andy Dunkley

Andy Dunkley, the CEO of Lee Cooper, has set some ambitious targets for the licensed denim brand - including plans to double revenues to US$1bn over the next five years. At the company's recent licensee conference, Dunkley spoke with Petah Marian about the Lee Cooper "family" and its future goals.

Founded in 1908, Lee Cooper is Europe's oldest denim brand, boasting a deep heritage which it continues to trade on today. After three generations of family control, its ownership has fluctuated since the 80s after being sold to the Phoenix Group, then to Matalan in 2001, and a Sun European Partners affiliate in 2005. Dunkey joined the company in 2009, and saw the brand through its US$72m sale to New York based brand manager Iconix, the company's current owner, earlier this year.

Since his arrival Lee Cooper has doubled its retail sales, which are expected to reach US$500m this year. "I think we're well on track for breaking through a billion dollars over the next few years," he tells just-style.

New markets
As well as denim, the brand has expanded into multiple lifestyle categories including men's and women's casual wear, footwear and accessories.

The company operates as a pure licensing brand, with a group of 35 international licensees, including Landmark in the Middle East and Future Group in India, that are expected to generate $14m in annual royalty revenue in 2013.

Its growth will come from entering new markets, as well as growing in the 46 markets in which it is already present. Indeed, the company is in some unexpected countries, with standalone stores in Burma/Myanmar, and plans to enter Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.

While Dunkley admits these countries are still in an early stage of development, he is looking to build the company for the future.

"I look at the very long term health of the brand and building it for future generations," he says, hoping to secure loyalty as consumers grow up with the brand.

"In my view, the money is not huge, but in terms of emotional connection we hope they will stay with us for life."

The company is also experiencing strong growth across Central and Eastern Europe, India, China, and the Middle East. "The business continues to grow across the Gulf States, our turnover will be nearly US$100m, and we've got a leading market presence," said Dunkley.

There are also plans to expand across the Americas. "We're in Central America, we're down to Venezuela, we've got deals in the pipeline for Colombia, Peru, Paraguay, Argentina, the US, Mexico and Canada".

Defining mid-market
While Dunkley points to Lee Cooper as a "mid-market" brand, the definition of mid-market varies widely across the countries where it is present.

Describing the company's price positioning, he said: "We don't want to go too low on price, but we do want to make sure people aspire to wear our jeans. Its that delicate balance between being affordable enough, without being something you can buy and discard. The price points vary based on the markets, and the markets vary hugely.

"In Myanmar, for example, it's got to be expensive because it's Western. So it really depends on the market and how you feel on that. In some of those Asian markets, the higher the price, the more volume you get."

The company's store strategy also varies by market. "We've realised that markets around the world are at very different stages of development. We prefer standalone retail stores, but in some markets that's just not feasible."

Growth in established markets
While international growth is one lever the company will use to drive expansion, Dunkley is keen to emphasise that most of the company's growth will come through better sell-through with its partners, its marketing, and the "great product we make".

Moving the brand to a "consistent global platform" is another key focus.

"We're constantly looking to...get the focus of the marketing and the product the same, and I think that will evolve naturally as the brand becomes stronger," he says.

"What we're trying to do is make sure the creative feel of the brand is the same wherever you are in the world and that people recognise it as Lee Cooper."

He concedes that the current model, which sees its licensees source and manufacture jeans based on the UK team's designs, could lead to differences in product quality in different markets, particularly given the different socio-economic demographics covered in different regions.

Yet the company tries to control these differences to make sure its licensees' ranges still "feel like it is a Lee Cooper product".

He adds: "There is a degree of variation, but I'd like to think that a consumer could travel and still be happy with us."

Moving beyond denim
The company is also working to move beyond life as a denim brand to more of a lifestyle one. Lee Cooper is set to open standalone footwear stores in India by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, Dunkley says its accessories line is so strong that it is looking to set up standalone accessories concessions in department stores, with the brand likely to trial this in Romania, where "we've got a leading market share".