Enter the dragon: Touker Suleyman on the future of big brands post-Brexit
British retail magnate Touker Suleyman tells Tempus his tips for entrepreneurs and how to impress on Dragons’ Den
Touker Suleyman, best known as one of the fiery faces of television series Dragons’ Den, is a tough-talking businessman with an impressive career history, particularly in the retail sector. From fashion brands and tailoring shops to brownies and baby toys, Suleyman’s smart investments and business acumen have made him one of Britain’s foremost retail giants.
He’s taken brands from collapse to success, launched start-ups and transformed them into household names and, while he’s been burned in the past, he’s always risen from the ashes. In an exclusive interview with Tempus, Suleyman talks product innovation, impressing the dragons, and how to stay ahead of the ever-changing retail game.
You’ve made your millions in retail. What is it about the industry that appeals to you?
Well, I’ve been in the retail sector all my life, whether it’s in products or manufacturing. I’m a product man. I like products and I love innovation. I love the fact you can create something and someone will buy it.
How closely do you work with the brands you support on a daily basis?
I’m very much hands on. With our clothing brands, there’s not one item of clothing that leaves the office that I don’t see. I have a great team around me and they understand I want to see everything. It’s all about product innovation. >>
Would you say you’re a risk taker?
I’m a calculated risk taker. Every day I come to work is a risk. I’ve made mistakes – I bought a business without due diligence and I lost everything. Each day we take a risk, whether it’s to do things one way or another, it’s all a risk. Take Hawes & Curtis – we bought them for a pound and now we’ve built it up to a £30m business. Even now with Brexit and retail slowing down, we were stuck with a business with xed prices. So we’ve overcome all those.
How have you adjusted your business strategies to manage the impact of recent political and economical issues?
We are adjusting all the time. We have adjusted Hawes & Curtis prices that have gone up because of Brexit. And we looked at the offering and realised people are dressing more casual than business, so we are putting more casual wares out there now. It’s important to give the customer what they want and not become set in your ways and say ‘this is what you should be buying’. Give them what they want to buy.
How do you see the retail world changing in the future?
We will see more and more stores close down. We will have a new revolution of pop up digital stores. I think online will grow even further. I think technology will grow. Same day delivery will be more common. Certain brands will diminish. High streets will become service orientated.
How should people be embracing this change?
If you have a product people want, they will find you. However, if you have a shop, it’s fixed costs. If you have an online business you can switch it on and off when you want. Don’t get involved in fixed costs long term. >>
Which industries should people be investing in going forward?
I think technology is one that’s growing very fast, however it’s a risk. There’ll be a lot of businesses in technology, some will work, some won’t. The problem with technology is when a new technology comes along. For instance, I met a very astute investor who said to me ‘I won’t invest in Apple’. I said ‘why?’ and he said ‘there’ll be a new invention and Apple will be disappear.’
When it’s up, it can only go one way. For me, any business that is appealing, has a cash ow and can make a pro t, yes, but industry wise, we're in the baby world which we believe is very good. Retail is tough because a lot of people today are very savvy and have become very discount orientated. However food and drink is always good. But it’s all about marketing. You can have the worst vodka in the world but if you market it right, it’ll be number one.
Many people know you as one of the ‘dragons’ on Dragons’ Den. What inspired you to go on the show?
At the time, I felt I could give something back. My highlight is that I have become an investor. People are coming to us outside of ‘the den’. Dragons’ Den is a passport to open more doors.
What’s your advice for those pitching to investors?
It’s important they know their numbers, know their pitches and, of course, have the vision to take it forward. A lot of it is knowing your journey and knowing where to go.