Sales: £77.01 million ($132.8 million) (2006)
Stock Exchanges: London
Ticker Symbol: AXD
NAIC: 315225 Men’s and Boys’ Cut and Sew Work Clothing Manufacturing
Alexandra plc is the United Kingdom’s leading workwear group. The Bristol-based company provides uniforms, garments, and work clothing for a wide variety of markets, including healthcare, hospitality, and other industries. The company completes its workwear offerings with a full range of accessories, including aprons, tabards, shoes and boots, and hats for the workwear market; belts, stethoscopes, and buckles for the heathcare market; and kerchiefs, bandannas, and chef’s hats for the hospitality industry. The company also supplies a range of safety and other footwear. Having long established its leadership position in the workwear market, Alexandra has expanded its operations in the middle of the first decade of the 2000s to include services for the corporate wear market, and especially the creation of custom-made and logo-emblazoned clothing collections for major corporations.
Acquisitions, including the 2005 purchases of De Baer and Prima Corporate Wear Ltd., have given Alexandra a leading position in this market. Formerly a manufacturing group, Alexandra switched to an outsourcing model in the early 2000s; the company’s marketing and sales network has long been based on the mail-order channel, but also includes ten retail showrooms in the United Kingdom, as well as sales offices in France and the Netherlands. Alexandra PLC is listed on the London Stock Exchange. Julian Budd is the company’s CEO. In 2006, Alexandra’s sales topped £77 million ($133 million).
FROM DRAPERS TO WORKWEAR IN 1958
Alexandra’s origins trace back to the opening of a draper’s shop in Bristol in 1856. For nearly a century, this remained the shop’s sole line of business. In the 1950s, however, the shop’s owners recognized a new business opportunity, the sales of work clothing for the local market. In support of this, a new store was opened, also in Bristol, providing a retail outlet for the new line.
The appearance of the modern Alexandra dated from 1958, when the workwear shop added mail-order sales to its business. The company’s catalog sales took off and quickly overshadowed the rest of its operations. By the 1960s, Alexandra had decided to focus on its mail-order workwear business, and withdrew from its other operations. The company then took on the name of Alexandra Workwear. In support of its growing mailorder sales, the company opened a dedicated warehouse in 1964.
Under the leadership of Granville Davis, Alexandra soon built a strong position in the U.K. workwear market. Yet toward the end of the 1960s the company began experiencing difficulties in ensuring the supply and especially the quality of its garments. In 1969, therefore, the company decided to take over its own manufacturing needs, opening its first factory in Coatbridge, Scotland.
Over the next decade, Alexandra continued to build up its production capacity, focusing its manufacturing operations in the region around Scotland. This was due in part to the ready supply of untrained machinists in the area. The company’s preference for hiring young and inexperienced production workers came from its sales model, which generally brought in orders for limited quantities of a type of garment. The need for short production runs—in part to reduce the need to maintain large stocks—of a wide variety of garment types demanded a high degree of flexibility on the part of its workers. As such, the company found it easier to train new operators in-house, rather than retrain experienced operators.
Over time, Alexandra added two more factories in Scotland, including a second factory in Bothwell Park, Glasgow in 1974. The new factory raised the company’s total production space to nearly 120,000 square feet. The company’s strong growth also led it to move to a new headquarters and warehouse complex in Patchway, outside of Bristol, in 1979. The new facility was to serve as the company’s central distribution site for more than a decade.
INTERNATIONAL EXPANSION IN 1980
In the meantime, Alexandra expanded its operations in two directions. On the one hand, the company built up a retail sales network, opening shops in a number of British High Streets. These shops served as rental and sales centers, as well as showrooms in support of the company’s mail-order operations. By the beginning of the 1990s, Alexandra had opened more than 30 stores.
On the other hand, at the same time, the company began developing its operations outside its home base in Bristol. The company entered the London market, opening a business center there in the early 1980s. Alexandra also fixed its targets on expansion into the European continent. In 1980, the company entered the Netherlands, setting up a sales center and warehouse. In 1987, Alexandra attempted to crack the Dutch retail workwear market, opening a retail shop in Rotterdam. While the company’s mail-order operations in the Netherlands performed well, its retail operations grew only slowly. In the early 1990s the company shut the Rotterdam store, keeping only its sales office and warehouse.
Alexandra’s expansion during the decade was supported by its successful listing on the London Stock Exchange in 1985. The company continued to build up its domestic operations, expanding its retail store network. Alexandra also expanded its manufacturing capacity, adding a new 150,000-square-foot facility in Bothwell Park in 1985. By the beginning of the next decade, the company had established clear leadership in the U.K. market, claiming a 30 percent share. The group’s success could be attributed to a number of factors, including a strong sales force. This was divided into 26 separate teams—each targeting a specific market segment, such as healthcare, catering, and security, among others. The company also provided a strong service commitment, including its own design staff, as well as strict quality control standards.
Alexandra also continued to build up its multifaceted sales base. In addition to its retail network and mail-order operations, the company further boosted its regional presence through the opening of a dedicated sales center in Edinburgh in 1987. This was followed by a new move into the European market, with the opening of a sales center and retail shop in Paris in 1989.
Alexandra plc is a multinational supplier of workplace clothing dedicated to providing customers with innovative design, top quality garments, best prices and the highest level of service support.
ADDING THE CORPORATE MARKET IN THE NEW CENTURY
By the beginning of the 1990s, Alexandra recognized that its centralized distribution system was no longer cost-efficient. In its place, the company established a new distribution model based on multiple distribution centers. The company replaced its single facility with a network of six centers, including three in Bristol and three in Swindon, each of which focused on a particular market segment. The company also rolled out an automated warehousing and logistics system, and in the process cut its distribution workforce by more than two-thirds.
The early 1990s marked the first break in Alexandra’s policy of controlling its manufacturing capacity. In 1991, the company launched a new high-end line of polyester/cotton-blended garments, called Vista. In support of this, the company turned to a German manufacturer, Erba. Nonetheless, the company’s Scottish factories continued to provide 90 percent of Alexandra’s clothing until the opening of a new manufacturing plant in Morocco, in 1996. Meanwhile, the company completed a move to a new headquarters building, in Thornbury, Bristol, in 1995.
In another shift toward the dawn of the 21st century, Alexandra adopted a new strategy, refocusing around its mail-order sales. These were backed by the development of new Internet-based sales initiatives, which took off especially at the end of the decade. As part of the group’s refocusing effort, the company began streamlining its sales network, which had grown to some 40 stores. By 1999, the company had reduced its number of retail operations back to below 30.
In its place, Alexandra had begun moving forward on its strategy to develop its operations in an entirely new market—that of producing garments directly for the corporate market. In support of this effort, the company completed three acquisitions at the end of the 1990s. These included the 1998 purchase of Atelius, a company that had lapsed into bankruptcy but which had nonetheless built a strong reputation in the corporate market. That purchase was complemented by the acquisition of Angelica International, a major supplier to the Johnson garment rental company, itself one of Alexandra’s own clients. By the end of that year, Alexander had added Corporate Apparel, further boosting its reach in the corporate market, while also gaining entry into the Irish Republic. Corporate Apparel was also a major supplier to Johnson.
The purchases enabled the company to build a solid presence in the corporate market into the 2000s, including a strong portfolio of long-term sole supplier contracts. As part of this process, the company developed its expertise in the made-to-order garment market. The importance of this division, which grew to represent some one-third of the company’s revenues by the early 2000s, was underscored by the creation of a dedicated division, Alexandra Corporate Clothing Ltd., in 2002. By then, too, the company had changed its name, to Alexandra PLC in 1998, to emphasize its broader operational base. Also in 1998, Julian Budd, who had joined the company in the late 1980s, was appointed company CEO with the charge to prepare the group for the challenges of the new century.
Indeed, despite the success of its two-prong market strategy, Alexandra found itself under increasing financial and investor pressure in the early 1990s. The company’s domestic manufacturing model had become something of a dinosaur at the turn of the century, and the company found itself hard-pressed to compete with the growing flood of inexpensively produced foreign goods. By 2002, Alexandra was no longer able to resist the tide, and in that year the company shut down its U.K. manufacturing operations and shifted its manufacturing operations to an outsourcing model.
The results of this effort quickly revealed themselves as the group’s profits jumped by some 90 percent into the middle of the decade. The company’s strong financial performance enabled it to launch a new growth effort, targeting a leadership position in the corporate clothing market. Acquisitions remained a centerpiece of this new effort, kicked off in 2005 with the purchase of Prisma Corporate Wear Ltd., a leading specialist of garments for the security and transport markets. That purchase, completed in April 2005, cost Alexandra £4 million.
- Alexandra originates as a draper’s shop in Bristol, England.
- After opening a workwear store in the 1950s, Alexandra launches mail-order sales, which becomes primary business area in the 1960s, under the name Alexander Workwear.
- Company opens a factory and begins manufacturing for its own clothing needs.
- First international operations are added in the Netherlands.
- Alexander Workwear goes public on the London Stock Exchange.
- Name changed to Alexander plc as part of expansion into corporate clothing market.
- Domestic manufacturing is shuttered and is outsourced.
- Acquires Prisma International and De Baer to gain leadership in U.K. corporate clothing market.
By October of that year, Alexandra had completed a still more important acquisition—De Baer, for £4.5 million. That company was a leading producer of company-ordered tailored clothing, targeting especially the service markets, including airlines, hotels, banks, and a large number of blue-chip clients. The De Baer acquisition also gave Alexandra the high-profile contract for the new staff clothing at Wimbledon Stadium. In support of that contract, Alexandra brought in noted designer Bruce Oldfield.
Buoyed by strong revenue and profit growth, by the end of 2006 Alexandra appeared ready to move to a higher level. The company had long maintained a small but steady presence in continental Europe. As it turned toward the end of the decade, however, the company announced plans to seek out its first acquisitions on the continent. In this way, Alexander intended to establish itself as a major European player in the workwear and corporate clothing markets in the new century.
M. L. Cohen
Alexandra (North West) Ltd.; Alexandra BV (Holland); Alexandra SARL (France); Alexandra Workwear (Overseas Holdings) Ltd.; Alexandra Workwear SA (Morocco); Corporate Apparel Ltd. (Irish Republic); Image Development Ltd. (Irish Republic); JT’s Corporation Ltd.; Prima Corporate Wear Ltd.
Remploy Ltd.; Crystal Martin Holdings Ltd.; Cosalt PLC; Dickies (UK) Ltd.; The Wakefield Shirt Company Ltd.; Dewhurst Dent PLC; MandL Harris Agencies Ltd.
“Alexandra H1 Profit Climbs 15%,” just-style.com, October 11, 2006.
“Alexandra’s Fashionable Growth and Income Prospects,” Growth Company Investor, October 4, 2006.
“Clothing Firms Bid for Fire Contract,” Bristol Evening Post, February 9, 2005.
“Create and Coordinate with Alexandra,” Leisure & Hospitality Business, November 29, 2001, p. 29.
“Dressing for Success,” Bristol Evening Post, April 30, 2003.
“Excellent Progress for Alexandra,” Aberdeen Press & Journal, April 27, 2006.
“Firms Has Designs on Wembley Deal,” Bristol Evening Post, October 12, 2006.
“Profit Rise for Workwear Firm,” Bristol Evening Post, October 6, 2004.
“Uniformly Good for Alexandra,” Birmingham Post, October 9, 2002.