Brand building the Pentland way

9 October 2018 | By Pip Brooking

One company, many brands and a fiercely competitive landscape. How do you sustain success? We spoke to Simon Grove at Pentland Brands to find out

Pentland Brands is a successful, third-generation family-owned business. But although it operates in 190 markets worldwide, few consumers know of its existence. That’s because its individual brands take the spotlight – and the list of those is long, and growing.

The company owns sports and outdoor brands Berghaus, Canterbury, Ellesse, Endura, Mitre and Speedo. It also has a collection of footwear brands: Boxfresh, Kangaroos, Red or Dead and SeaVees (a recent purchase from the US).

It holds the license for Ted Baker and Karen Millen footwear globally, and for Kickers in the UK. It has a joint venture partnership for Lacoste footwear, and is a shareholder in brands such as Hunter Boots, Butterfly Twists, swimwear brand Heidi Klein and running brand Tracksmith. Pentland is also the majority owner of JD Sports.

So the company should already know a thing or two about brand building.

But over the past 18 months, Pentland Brands has been reorganising the way it works so it is fitter to respond to fierce competition and more demanding consumers in an increasingly digital world. It has moved away from a model where each brand was run as a separate business and is instead becoming a “portfolio business” which better leverages its scale.

Focusing on a common goal

“We’ve gone through a huge piece of organisation design work to make sure we’re operating in the best possible way to enable us to thrive,” says Brand Development Director Simon Grove.

This led to a major recruitment drive across its marketing, digital and creative divisions earlier this year. And in May, the company launched an in-house brand building academy – part of a wider programme to share best practice across the business.

The idea is to offer hundreds of employees from different teams (not just marketers) access to workshops, as well as online tools, resources, inspiration and training when they need it.

Ideas can come from anywhere

“At the heart of this programme, it’s about unlocking the growth potential both of our brands and our people. The two have to go hand in hand for the long term,” Grove explains.

“For many organisations, brand building is the domain of marketing teams, whereas we believe that it’s the collective brain power, creativity, and experiences of cross-functional teams that is really going to make the difference.”

That means involving people from finance, the supply chain, the product team, as well as sales, innovation and digital specialists, for example. And when your main challenge is getting under the skin of the consumer to understand what will make them buy your product or stay loyal to it, capturing that diversity of opinion is increasingly important.

“Ideas can come from anyone,” says Grove.

The importance of agility

Grove also emphasises the practical nature of the workshops. Each one focuses on a specific challenge currently faced by a brand and delivers a clear action plan to address it, all the while improving teams’ capabilities through quickly encouraging them to apply new skills.

“It would have been really easy for us to send people off to a classroom to learn some more technical things. But you’d end up with a few more people knowing a bit more stuff,” he explains. “The world is changing so rapidly around us, if we fall into that trap of being too theoretical then we’re just simply going to get left behind.

We can't solve everything at once, so we focus on what's needed, when

“We can’t solve everything at once, so we focus on what’s needed, when – the couple of things that will make the biggest impact to us and our brands right now. Then we can evolve the programme over time.”

This approach means the training Pentland provides should always keep pace and adapt to current business challenges, changes in the external environment and new skills requirements as they arise.

It also shifts the focus away from internal structures where specialist knowledge may be important, but somewhat irrelevant to the end consumer.

“By ruthlessly focusing on the consumer, it makes sure we concentrate on what’s happening out in the market, and we can respond quicker to the trends.”

Confidence to invest

Berghaus and Ellesse are the first two brands to publicly benefit from the new approach – with the depth of insight creating “really sharp plans that are both compelling and investable”, says Grove. By the end of October, both brands will have launched their biggest ever advertising campaigns to drive further growth.

And while for these two brands the solution has been a marketing campaign, other challenges might drive product innovation or changes in the way they are sold, he continues.

By having a consistent way of working, the company can also flex its resources behind the biggest opportunities at any given time – and it can easily replicate the process for any new acquisitions it may make.

Attracting talent

But the investment is not just for the sake of Pentland’s brands. The new approach also gives its people the chance to move across the organisation into different roles and to experience different things. That helps the company attract talent too.

“We have an incredible history of being a great place to work,” says Grove – and you just have to look around at Pentland’s Finchley headquarters to see the investment that has been made into the workplace environment, which includes comfortable and spacious breakout areas, swimming pool and gym.

“What this has done is further that investment to make sure that we provide the right development opportunities for people, the right training, and make working here a lot easier by providing a clear process and ways of working.

“That enables our teams to focus on what they do best, which is using their creativity to deliver really incredible work to grow our brands.”

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