Aberdeen store for Ness – with more to come

Adrienne and Gordon MacAulay and Kenny Baillie. Picture: Chris Watt
Adrienne and Gordon MacAulay and Kenny Baillie. Picture: Chris Watt
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WOMENSWEAR retailer Ness is planning to open its first store in Aberdeen as it puts the finishes touches to its latest outpost in Yorkshire.

The Edinburgh-based firm, founded by husband and wife Gordon and Adrienne MacAulay in 1996, is due to open the doors of its Ilkley branch on 15 July after a £2.5 million cash injection from YFM Equity Partners in April.

The opening will bring the company’s total number of stores to 12, and managing dir­ector Kenny Baillie told Scotland on Sunday that more were in the pipeline.

As well as Aberdeen, Baillie said further branches were planned for Perth, Harrogate, Leamington Spa and Norwich as the company targets “areas where existing lifestyle brands operate”.

The retailer, known for its knitwear, coats and accessories, has a total of 50 towns on its list of possible locations. It plans to have up to 40 stores within the next five years, added Baillie, formerly finance and performance director at online tyre fitter Blackcircles.com, which was acquired by French group Michelin for £50m in May.

Ness is also set to roll out an investment of £250,000 or more in its computer systems following a review by Stewart Wilson, head of IT, as Baillie said the firm’s online operation, which accounts for about 10 per cent of sales, is currently “undersized”.

In the year to the end of January, Ness delivered turnover of £5.1m, with sales at its UK stores growing 12 per cent, leading to underlying earnings of more than £400,000.

The firm is aiming to grow its turnover to as much as £20m over the next five years, with e-commerce set to acc­ount for £5m of that total, and Baillie said: “We’re expecting like-for-like sales to be up 10 per cent in the first half of the current year.”

Along with its growth ambitions in the UK, Ness is considering setting up a permanent presence in overseas locations including China, Japan and the US after the trail of a “pop-up” store in Tokyo a couple of years ago was well received by Japanese fashionistas.

Baillie, who joined in 2012, said: “The opportunity is there for us to expand overseas, but the focus for us right now is to open four or five stores in the UK before Christmas.”

Ness, which started out with a single store on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, has overseas stockists in France, Germany, the Netherlands and the US, and up to 25 per cent of visits to its website come from customers outside the UK.

The chain employs 13 people at its Edinburgh head office, with a further 85 across its stores, although that figure rises to more than 100 during the key festive trading period.

Following the investment from YFM Equity Partners, which has also backed coffee bar chain Bagel Nash and camping equipment specialist Go Outdoors, retail industry veteran Dean Murray joined Ness as chairman, while Clydesdale Bank will continue to support the business with £1m of banking facilities.

At the time of the deal, YFM investment director Charlie Robinson said: “Ness is an established brand with a strong and loyal customer base. We want to help the founders, who are passionate about the business, to take advantage of the opportunity they have created for the brand. We look forward to helping them roll out new stores, improve their online offering and grow business in their existing sites”.