Crew Clothing Co. is a British clothing brand with a wide range of active, outdoor and casual wear for men and women. Its heritage is in its south-coast roots, having been started in the back of a windsurfing school in Salcombe in 1993 by managing director, Alastair Parker-Swift. He took his small but distinctive collection to the ultimate testing ground - Cowes Week - on the Isle of Wight, where he sold out of all his stock.
By the time Alastair met with Livingbridge the business had grown and he wanted to stay on whilst realising some of his cash. He said, “The bank had the deeds to my house – I’d given them everything to grow the business and we were limited by what we could do and what I was prepared to risk.” Livingbridge’s investment enabled the brand to grow and evolve into the premium active and casual wear retailer, while still retaining its unique heritage and position.
Doubling store numbers with the right crew in place
The transaction allowed the founder to realise part of his shareholding whilst also bringing other key members of the management team into the equity structure. Alastair commented, “I was obviously staying on and I wanted a partner, not just a bank and an overdraft. So it wasn’t just about the payday, but a relationship that needed to last.”
The first consideration was to bolster the senior team. We introduced an experienced chairman and a new finance director. This was supported by investment in design, marketing and merchandising expertise recruitment.
This new structure professionalised the business, bringing in daily reporting and coherent KPI reporting. The finance director commented in 2008, “A consistent report format means we can measure ourselves against budget and the prior year, and start to really manage our business on a daily basis. We can identify problems and resolve them on a weekly basis whereas, before, we didn’t have the background data and support.”
One of the principle aims was for a bold consumer rollout strategy, and Crew Clothing went from 34 retail outlets at time of investment to over 80 stores nationwide at exit in 2017. Andrew Garside, Livingbridge, commented, “The roll-out plan for stores was relatively straightforward. We knew how the stores should look and feel, and which towns to target. We just needed to do more of them and get the right sites on the right terms.”
In 2017 Crew was sold following a period of strong growth and development for the brand driven by the appointment of Louise Barnes, who joined the business as CEO in 2014.
“I can honestly say that when we agreed the deal, it was everything I hoped it would be. When you’re an owner and founder of a business for 14 years, and living and breathing it is all you’ve done, releasing any equity is a very difficult decision – but I’ve never looked back. A good deal is when both parties go away thinking they got a good deal.”
Alastair Parker-Swift, Founder
First retail site in Salcombe opened
Crew produces designs for England Polo team and the Cartier International Polo event
First office opens in New Kings Road, London
Livingbridge acquires 25% of Crew Clothing Co as part of a £7.75 million transaction
Appointment of chairman and FD
Sales forecast to exceed £20m. Approaching 50 retail sites
75th store opened