Investing in people — or “fans” as Levi’s calls them — is key in helping the brand grow, said Richard Hurren, vice president North Europe. This concerns customers as much as its own salespeople. “We want to attract the best talent, and when we get them, we want to try to retain them. At stylist level, as we call it — for the 18- to 25-[year-olds] — it’s about pay.” But, said the executive, “if you’re not careful, cost and recruitment and everything that goes with it, will drain your resources,” so it better be worthwhile.
Twelve months ago in Northern Europe, the brand put a program in place called Next Generation — “it’s about taking your stylist all the way through from when they join your organization to become a future leader.” What this means? “Not stacking shelves, not just working tills but making sure they’re engaged with the consumer and having a point of view. Sounds basic, but it’s working,” Hurren insisted, adding that in 18 months the attrition rate fell from 90 percent to 45 percent.
Four years ago, the brand also set up the tailor academy, an in-house curriculum teaching staffers denim customization and personalization skills, which serves consumers and employees, Hurren noted. “By doing that, we’ve opened up the opportunities for our teams and stores to actually go and learn new trades, and I can’t tell you how popular customization is on consumer level. Everyone wants a little rip, a patch somewhere or studs on a denim jacket. We offer those services at low-level prices, but it means that we’ve got something unique and every fan can wear their products in the way they want.”
Levi’s uses the platform as a feeler for what customers expect to see in the main collections, as well. “It’s like a band — if we carry on playing the same music, but fans are looking for something different, we need to make sure to be relevant.” In the U.K. alone, 65,000 leg alterations are requested per year.
Levi’s Lot No. 1 service, meanwhile, which offers made-to-measure jeans and in London is run by Savile Row-trained master tailor Lizzie Radcliffe, had gotten so popular, it had to close for orders for some weeks. “People say well, it’s quite expensive, it’s 500 pounds. Yes, but it’s an investment and it opens up the ability for everybody to have a pair of jeans to fit them no matter what your shape, size, disability. That’s very democratic.”
A demographic Levi’s admits it has left neglected, however, are women. “We were so androgynous three, four years ago. Now we’ve increased our women’s mix by 10 percent on the prior year and in Q1 have grown the women’s business 34 percent in Europe,” said the executive, quoting its latest lady-magnet, the 700 series, which employs a new denim stretch for better halt and lift, along with the vintage-inspired wedgie fit. After all: “Who doesn’t want a great butt?” he teases.