From humble beginnings as a family-run linen shop in a terraced house in West London, Harvey Nichols has evolved over nearly 200 years into one of the most highly regarded names in luxury British retail – ideal for distinctive new UK brands with unique, high-quality products.
Since first opening the doors to its flagship Knightsbridge shop in 1831, the luxury department store has had to transform itself many times to maintain its pedigree, and it continues to be the preferred retailer for exciting new luxury UK brands.
Today, Harvey Nichols boasts seven stores across the UK and Ireland, including five so-called large format stores in London, Edinburgh, Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, and two small format stores, in Bristol and in Dublin.
The retailer has also opened Beauty Bazaar, a sprawling three-floor beauty concept store in Liverpool’s newly-developed town centre shopping district.
As well as its domestic locations, Harvey Nichols has recognised the growing clout of luxury British brands abroad, and has opened seven large department stores overseas for its international customers. It has opened two stores in Turkey, one in Saudi Arabia, one in Dubai, one in Kuwait and two in Hong Kong. Another store in Doha, Qatar, is due to open in early 2017.
An important way Harvey Nichols has stood apart from its competitor retailers over the years has been its commitment to honing the all-round shopping “experience”.
Not only do in-store customers get the chance to scour the rails for favourite everyday brands as well as some more exclusive, niche designer labels, they’re also able to eat, drink and be entertained when during visits. As such, Harvey Nichols calls itself the “club that doesn’t require a membership”.
Each UK store contains luxury restaurants, food markets, cafes, coffee shops or brasseries, and the brand owns and operates OXO Tower Restaurant and Bar in London’s trendy South Bank area, making Harvey Nichols a highly attractive retail partner for distinctive new food and drink brands as well as fashion and homeware labels.
This was the case for entrepreneur David Spencer-Percival, who’d kept the retailer firmly in mind whilst launching a new brand of high-end, rosemary-infused mineral water, called No1 Rosemary Water, in September last year.
“We especially wanted to be in Harvey Nichols due to the store’s excellent reputation for luxury food and drink, and we thought No1 Rosemary Water would be a natural fit,” said Spencer-Percival.
“I contacted a consultant who helps companies get their products into department stores, and gives advice on how to approach them and what they typically look for. Thanks to our consultant’s help, we were able to secure initial interest and schedule a meeting with the head buyer to pitch the product.”
It was vital that Spencer-Percival took some product samples along with him to his pitching meeting with Harvey Nichols, and he was asked many questions about the ingredients of his mineral water, his brand’s concept and why he thought No1 Rosemary Water would fit well in the department store.
“They also requested exclusivity,” he added. “When it comes to the pitch, be prepared, with a detailed explanation of why you think your product is a good fit for the store, and be prepared to spend some Saturdays behind a stand in-store, running tasting events!
This view was shared by drinks entrepreneur Karl Mason, who successfully won a listing with Harvey Nichols in 2015 after launching a new range of gins.
Being the first major retailer he’d made contact with, the entrepreneur expected Harvey Nichols to give Masons Dry Yorkshire Gin a small listing at first, perhaps in its Knightsbridge store. He was therefore surprised when his new brand was offered shelf space at stores in Leeds, Manchester and Bristol, as well as London, from the outset.
“We followed up with a series of tastings in-store,” explained Mason. “We weren’t contractually obliged to appear at the stores, but we wanted to do it, because we knew getting in to Harvey Nichols wouldn’t be as hard as getting people to buy the product.”
Mason sees the tasting sessions as having given Masons Dry Yorkshire Gin an advantage over rival new gin brands. He’s been able to get to know the distinctive type of consumer Harvey Nichols attracts, and tailor his offering to them accordingly.
Describing his brand, Mason told Business Advice: “It’s grown very well because of the tastings in-store, and Harvey Nichols have been very loyal to us.
“In the two years we’ve been with them, they’ve taken on all three of our new editions of gin, and our new vodka. We’ve also managed to increase our shelf space in that time.”
Physically interacting with customers at Harvey Nichols helped Mason establish his brand with the retailer, but he said the way he in which he originally struck up the relationship came about “surprisingly easily”.
This being his first foray into the drinks industry, Mason had no industry contacts at all when first trying to bring his gins to market, so took to social media as a way to reach the relevant decision makers in the sector directly.
The chief spirits buyer at Harvey Nichols commented on one of Mason’s tweets, and asked him to send in some samples after Mason had replied. It then took just two months after making that initial contact with the buyer to having his Harvey Nichols listing approved. “It all happened very quickly,” added the business owner.
“Don’t be afraid to use alternative methods to contact these people – there’s nothing wrong with reaching out to someone on Twitter.
“Don’t assume you’ll have to play hardball, either. If you have a good quality product and you’re happy to promote it with Harvey Nichols, they will give you that chance, and it’s better to work with them than compete with them.”
Nicola Simons, the founder at independent British jams and preserves business Single Variety Co, began selling to Harvey Nichols after meeting a member of the retailer’s buying team at a local food market – a tried and tested arena for small suppliers looking to make contact with major retailers.
“We had to demonstrate we were able to supply the volumes Harvey Nichols required, but they were flexible on timings to ensure we were able to deliver, as it was our biggest order to date.
“We’ve just confirmed our second order with Harvey Nichols – our second biggest ever – and we’re really excited about what the future holds with the store.”
Based on the experiences of these three business owners when selling to Harvey Nichols, it’s clear having a unique product is a guiding principle of Harvey Nichols buyers when they look for new retail partners. Standing out from the crowd is a must, as is understanding that Harvey Nichols customers value in-store brand experiences highly.
Catch up and read some other features in our ‘Selling to big business’ supply chain series:
Sign up to our newsletter to get the latest from Business Advice.