Tim Wheeler, president, international division, Jockey International

Tim Wheeler, president, international division, Jockey International

Overseeing international operations for one of the world's most-recognised brands, Tim Wheeler paints a picture of a business model fine-tuned for success.

He's also surprisingly relaxed about the constantly changing dynamics within the industry and their impact on a company that boasts a 136-year heritage, spans 120 countries, and produces hundreds of millions of garments each year, including underwear, sportswear, nightwear, sleepwear, activewear, loungewear and socks.

"We pretty much approach each year not much different from the one before," he explains, pointing out that the privately-owned company navigates economic and political situations "market by market, region by region" with a "total focus on just the Jockey brand."

That's not to say there aren't potential issues on the horizon of course, with China and India the two markets "definitely there on the radar screen".

"Growth and development in China is something we're watching very carefully," Wheeler explains, especially as the country's dynamic consumer market shows signs of waning momentum.

But he also points to issues on the supply side, including rising production costs, a move away from sewing towards higher-end production, and a more general shift of sourcing away from China.

"A lot of the factories and companies there are not even as interested in export markets, and you have more and more companies that want to produce their own brands that they sell directly into the China market.

"We're constantly monitoring the right place, so if we've got a programme in China today, does it stay there, should it go elsewhere? China always comes up in the middle of the cost and sourcing dynamic."

India's "tremendous development"
In India - Jockey's second-largest market internationally - the company has a long-standing relationship with local apparel producer Page Industries, which is licensed to make Jockey innerwear and leisurewear until 2030 for the domestic market, as well as the UAE, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bangladesh.

Wheeler, who is a member of the board of directors of Page Industries - as well as the International Apparel Federation (IAF) - says that despite "tremendous development" of the Jockey brand in India, "the political dynamic of the country is something we watch very closely.

"Like any developing market, foreign direct investment is usually one of the dynamics of development for companies and brands like ours, so hopefully the market will continue to open up and move forward in a good way."

While the Indian government proposed reforms to its foreign direct investment regulations at the end of last year, effectively opening the country's multi-brand retail sector up to international players, Wheeler notes the legislation will be adopted on a state-by-state basis.

"So any retailers that are in India could find that instead of being able to go across the whole country they could actually only have stores in certain areas."

Other emerging consumer markets "that are on a good roll right now" include Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, thanks to a combination of political and economic stability a rapidly-growing young population.

"Indonesia has the potential to be massive because of its size; it's maybe the most interesting of all of them looking [further] out.

Again, Jockey's long-standing licensees in these markets is standing it in good stead. Its partner in the Philippines is from the same family that has the license in India, while in Indonesia it works with a contact of Wheeler's from his time as president of VF Corporation's International Jeanswear division.

Product development and sourcing
When it comes to product development, production and sourcing, Jockey has a two-pronged approach.

Global product platforms like Jockey Sport, USA Originals, and International Collection are designed to build on the brand's unique heritage, while licensees are able to make and adapt products to suit individual markets.

Most of the international programmes originate and are developed out of the Jockey Europe business, with "special inspiration" from Jockey USA. 

Their supply chains are "organised so that they can be used by the largest number of licensee partners as possible." Licensees unable to draw on this can arrange their own supply for these global programmes, either in their own factories, with local contractors or farther afield.

"It's an excellent model, because we have partners who invest in the business and want to develop it, and we're investing because we're developing global programmes - and then we match the two together," Wheeler explains.

Another strength has been to build long-term relationships across the supply chain. "We think of our suppliers as our partners and try to work extremely close," Wheeler notes.

"The one thing we don't do at Jockey is bounce around to get the cheapest price, because that's exactly where you get into problems; somebody sub-contracts out production because they've got to meet a delivery or to meet a price.

"We're very careful about not running around factory to factory to get a better price, to meet a fast delivery, because that's where that risk comes in. We have put a lot of money and effort behind the supply chain."

While the US market is "the big monster and always has been," Wheeler says that the international and US markets are expected to grow by close to 20% in 2013. 

Growth is being seen across the board, he says, from traditional wholesale channels such as department stores and independents, as well as the company's own Jockey branded stores and, of course, e-commerce.

And the focus into the future will continue to be "day-to-day, down at the consumer level and that aspect of the business.

"We've had a lot of success over the past couple of years by not getting distracted too much by macro, economic and political issues."