Moss Bros Group plc
Moss Bros Group plc
Public Company Founded: 1851
Sales: £141.3 million ($227 million) (2001)
Stock Exchanges: London
Ticker Symbol: MOSB
NA1C: 448110 Men’s Clothing Stores; 532220 Formal Wear and Costume Rental
After more than 120 years in business, Moss Bros Group plc remains one of the preeminent names in the United Kingdom’s men’s fashions retail sector. The company owns and operates a retail network of more than 165 stores across the United Kingdom, selling its own Moss Bros and Cecil Gee brands as well as others, including Hugo Boss, for which it holds the exclusive UK license. Moss Bros’ specialty has long been men’s suits, especially premium suits—the company is the United Kingdom’s leader in the high-end suit segment, with about 30 percent of the market. At the end of the 1990s, Moss Bros made an unsuccessful to extend into the popular casual clothing segment, and in 2002 the company began a restructuring and re-branding program, placing its stores into three primary cateogries: Premium, with nine Hugo Boss stores and 23 Cecil Gee stores; Moss, with 95 stores; and Value, with 37 stores operating primarily as factory outlet stores in out-of-town locations. In addition to its retail sales, Moss Bros is also well-known for its Moss Bros Hire operations, which has long been the leading formalwear rental company in the United Kingdom. Moss Bros Hire operates primarily through the company’s retail network, primarily its Moss chain, and hires out more than one million clothing items a year, including military uniforms. Moss is listed on the London Stock Exchange. At the end of 2001 and through much of 2002, Moss Bros faced additional pressure as it became the target of two hostile takeover attempts. However, with 38 percent of the company’s shares—and 70 percent of voting rights—held by the Moss and Gee families, the company was able to resist both attempts.
Renting Success in the 19th Century
Moss Bros had its start in 1851 when Moses Moses opened a second-hand clothing shop owned in London. Moses’ shop prospered, and he opened a number of other stores in London, assisted by his four sons and added tailor services. In 1881, two of Moses’ sons, Alfred and George, opened a new shop in London’s Co vent Gardens on what was later to become one of the city’s main shopping streets, Kings Street. Alfred and George Moses inherited the family business in 1894.
The Moses store might have remained a tiny retail business if not for the predicament of a family friend. Charles Pond had been a stockbroker in London but had lost all of his money and had turned to entertaining at parties in order to survive. Pond needed a dress suit for his engagements and turned to the Moss brothers, who agreed to lend him one of the store’s suits on the condition that he pay a small nightly fee and that he return the suit to the store each day for cleaning and pressing.
The idea quickly caught on among London’s entertainment world, and the Moses brothers soon found itself with a thriving formalwear rental business. The company quickly built up a reputation not only for its rentals but also for its expertise—particularly in navigating the various dress requirements of British society at the time. In 1898, Alfred and George Moses anglicized their name to Moss and expanded the Kings Street store to include a new rental section. The store then became known as Moss Bros.
At the turn of the century, Moss Bros began collecting military uniforms, and in 1910 added a new military rental and tailoring department. With the outbreak of World War I, the company came under strong demand for new uniforms, especially from the class of commissioned officers being sent up to fight. By then, the brothers had formally incorporated the company, as Moss Bros plc, in 1914.
At the end of the war, Moss Bros continued to expand. The return to peacetime had created a surge in demand for civilian clothing, particularly formalwear. British society was also undergoing vast changes in the social structure, with the rise of a true middle class in the interwar years and the extension of formal occasions beyond the upper classes. By the outbreak of World War II, ceremonial and social occasions requiring formalwear had become common not only for the middle class but also for the working class as well. Moss Bros was by then the country’s leading name in formalwear rentals. The company also built up a position as a leading name in the men’s suits retails sector.
During World War II, Moss Bros once again became a major provider of military uniforms, including to such noted personalities as the General Montgomery and General Patton. During the postwar boom years, Moss Bros expanded onto a national scale, opening shops throughout the United Kingdom and developing a reputation across the country, to the point where the Moss Bros name became synonymous with formal attire and dress suits.
Merging As a Retail Men’s Fashions Group in the 1980s
By the 1980s, Moss Bros had begun a new phase in its growth when it began making a series of acquisitions, starting with the purchase of textiles and clothing specialist Fairdale. In 1987, Moss Bros added another strong brand name when it acquired The Suit Company, which, as its name implied, targeted the retail market for suits and accessories.
Moss Bros next expansion move came in 1988, when the company agreed to merge with another well-known name in British men’s fashions, Cecil Gee. That company had been founded in London’s Charring Cross Road in 1929 by Cecil Gee, who had quickly revealed himself to be one of the country’s most innovative men’s clothing specialists, starting with his introduction of the “jacket-shirt” in the 1930s. The return of the British forces after World War II gave the store new success with its “demob” suit, and Cecil Gee opened two new stores to meet the demand.
Another Cecil Gee success came in the 1950s when he began importing Italian-made suits made from lightweight, more comfortable and more versatile fabrics. Among the brand names brought back by Cecil Gee were Canali and Brioni—the latter was the maker of the soon to be famous “James Bond” suit. The success of that suit helped Cecil Gee become a noted leader of men’s fashions, attracting such customers as the Beatles to its stores. Cecil Gee also began its own expansion, opening new stores—including a store on Kings Road—and adding such noted men’s clothing stores as Savoy Taylors Guild and Beale & Inman.
The merger of Moss Bros and Cecil Gee, by then run by Gee’s son Rowland Gee, created the Moss Bros Group, with the Moss and Gee families sharing ownership of the new enterprise. After going public, the two families continued to control the group, with more than 38 percent of its shares and more than 70 percent of the company’s voting rights. Rowland Gee was put into place as the group’s managing director. Under Gee, the company began developing its strong portfolio of store brands. While Moss Bros was reserved for its formalwear rental operation, retail was segmented among its Cecil Gee, Suit Company, and Savoy Taylors Guild formats, the latter taking over as the company’s high-end men’s fashions format. The company had also gained the exclusive license to market the Hugo Boss brand in the United Kingdom. By the beginning of the new century, the company operated 17 Hugo Boss stores.
Comeback from Casual in the 2000s
By the mid-1990s, Moss Bros Group had more than 100 stores, more than three-quarters of which also featured Moss Bros Hire shops. The company had begun acquiring more retail brands, including Dormie in 1992. Part of the motivation behind Moss Bros’ acquisition drive was the company’s desire to extend its retail operations beyond its core of men’s suits and into the larger men’s fashion sector, particularly into casual fashions. In 1996, the company took a step toward achieving that goal with the acquisition of the 28-store Blazer chain. That company had been founded in the early 1980s, then taken over by the Storehouse group, which also owned the BhS and Mothercare stores.
With its sales rising strongly, along with its market share, Moss Bros began to hone its ambitions, targeting a 15 percent share of the men’s suit market in Britain by the end of the decade. The company continued to make gains on the competition, such as Marks & Spencers and the Burton Group, by offering a wide range of high-quality labels. The company added a new label when it acquired the British retail rights to Yves Saint Laurent’s men’s fashions line. Moss Bros opened its first YSL retail store in June of 1997. Moss Bros was buoyed by what appeared to be a new interest in suits purchases, particularly among the younger men’s market segment, as sales rose to £122 million for that year.
By 1999, Moss Bros’s retail network had grown to 190 stores, including a growing number of out-of-town discount clothing stores operated under the Brand Centre name. The company was also helped by difficulties at Marks & Spencer’s, which controlled 15 percent of the men’s suits market as Moss Bros’ own share climbed to 13.5 percent. By the end of 1999, the company’s sales had risen to nearly £154 million.
The company’s mission it to be Britain’s No. 1 authority in menswear.
Yet Moss Bros’ reliance on suits and more formal fashions placed it in an awkward position as the men’s fashion market embraced the casual fashion trend. The company found itself all the more hard-pressed as increasing numbers of corporations adopted casual dress codes. Moss Bros scrambled to catch up, restructuring its holdings in 2000 to create a new clothing brand. Called Code, from “Casualwear, Office, Dressing up, and Essentials,” the new retail format took over Moss Bros’ Savoy Taylors, Blazer, and Suit Company locations. The company ultimately planned to open as many as 80 to 100 Code stores, including the conversion of 50 of its stores existing under other formats. As part of the restructuring, the company also sought to sell off nearly 60 of its under-performing store locations.
Yet the restructuring dragged the company into the red, with losses mounting to £2.7 million on sales of just under £156 million for the 2000 year. Moss Bros turned to a new chairman, Keith Hammill, to help steer the company back into profits. Hammill quickly put an end to the company’s casualwear experiment, dropping the Code retail format. The company also named a new CEO, Adrian Wright. By the beginning of 2002, the company had once again focused its operations on its formalwear specialty, realigning its retail network into three main categories: Premium, which included the company’s Cecil Gee and Hugo Boss stores; Value, which took over the company’s out-of-town locations; and a new store format, Moss, which took over more than 95 of the company’s stores and included the Moss Bros Hire rental service.
Moss Bros’ difficulties at the turn of the century had caused severe cuts in its stock price, which in turn made the company a takeover target. First up to bat was Shami Ahmed, who had built up a fortune with the Joe Bloggs jeans label. Yet the unified weight of the Gee and Moss families, which continued to control the company’s voting rights, enabled the company to resist Ahmed’s repeated takeover offers. Soon after Ahmed gave up, in April 2002, a new suitor knocked on Moss Bros’ door in the form of Harold Tillman, who had acquired Baird Menswear Brands, which manufactured suits under the Jasper Conran and Pierre Cardin labels, in 2000, and who sought access to Moss Bros’ retail network.
Moss Bros fought off Tillman’s offer for discussions in June 2002, leading observers to suggest that Tillman would return with a full-fledged takeover bid by the end of the year. Meanwhile, Moss Bros continued its restructuring. By the end of the year, the company had reason for optimism, as men’s fashions—and corporate cultures—appeared to swing back toward more conservative clothing. After more than 150 years in business, Moss Bros remained one of the United Kingdom’s leading names in suits.
Marks and Spencer Group PLC; Arcadia Group plc; Next plc; JJB Sports plc; Burberry Ltd.; Lewis Trust Group Ltd.; Alexon Group PLC; Blacks Leisure Group plc; Sears Ltd.; River Island Clothing Co Ltd.; Peacock Group plc; William Baird PLC; French Connection Group PLC; H and M Hennes Ltd.; Mackays Stores Ltd.; Austin Reed Group PLC; GPS Great Britain Ltd.; Be Wise Group Ltd.; WEW Group plc; Alexandra plc; Gold Group International Ltd.; Liberty PLC; Speciality Retail Group Ltd.
- Moses Moses sets up a second-hand clothing shop in London.
- Moses’ sons Albert and George take over the business.
- The company becomes the first to offer formalwear rentals; the Moses’ brothers changes their name to Moss, and the company adopts Moss Bros signage.
- The firm incorporates as Moss Bros plc.
- Cecil Gee opens a men’s clothing store in London.
- Moss Bros acquires Fairdale clothing company.
- The company acquires The Suit Company retail chain.
- Moss Bros merges with Cecil Gee to form Moss Bros Group.
- The firm acquires Blazer retail group.
- Moss Bros launches Yves Saint Laurent men’s clothing retail store branch.
- The company converts The Suit Company, Blazer, and Savoy Taylors Guild retail formats into new casual format, Code.
- Moss Bros abandons Code format and restructures most of its stores into new Moss format.
Banniester, Nicolas, “Years of Overnight Success,” Guardian, June 10, 2000.
Cole, Cheryl, “Why Moss Bros Got a Good Dressing Down,” Birmingham Post, April 12, 2002, p. 19.
Cope, Nigel, “The Monday Interview: Keith Hamill,” Independent, December 17, 2001, p. 15.
Foley, Stephen, “Moss Bros Braced for New Bid Approach from Tillman,” Independent, June 24, 2002, p. 16.
Mesure, Susie, “Moss Bros Finds Casual Wear No Longer Suits,” Independent, April 12, 2002, p. 25.
“Rolling Moss Gathers No Moans in Push Back to Black,” Birmingham Post, April 3, 2001, p. 23.
Slingsby, Helen, “Gee Fights to Retain Moss Bros Helm,” Guardian, November 29, 2001.
—M. L. Cohen