Interview by Melanie Gropler

Multi-brand young fashion specialists are rare species these days. In fact, there are only a few specialist left – such as Indigo Just Fashion. “Stand-alone multi-label concepts like Indigo are rare in Germany. Most large fashion houses in a middle position usually just pick up this section on their basement floor”, states Horst Bickert, CEO of Indigo Just Fashion in Großostheim. In this small city near Frankfurt am Main, Germany, the name Bickert stands for long tradition and strong fashion expertise. Once started as a manufacturer of women’s pants and a factory outlet, the family led company meanwhile operates three stores: womenswear store Aubi (named after the father Arthur Bickert), the younger fashion concept Indigo, and the footwear store “Schuhwerk”. Opened in 1992, Indigo carries young fashion on a total space of about 900 square meters with brands such as Only, Jack & Jones, Scotch & Soda, Vero Moda, Pepe Jeans. Here, Horst Bickert discusses the big challenges multi-brand stores face today and the importance of fashion fairs for him.

Why did you decide to open your store? Please tell us your story and your motivation!
Since we are a family business, I got to know the industry from early on and knew the advantages and disadvantages I was facing. After studying business management I opened Indigo in 1992 on a space of 120 square meters. Since then, Indigo has been massively transformed three times. Today we own 900 square meters. The fashion house Aubi has 1750 square meters and Schuhwerk 800 square meters. Because we are located at the outskirt it has always been our goal to offer an attractive shopping location.

Indigo, Großostheim
Indigo, Großostheim
What is most important to you concerning shopfitting and store design?
We did the last major renovation at Indigo in 2009, together with Schwitzke und Partner. With this, we wanted to implement our own DNA. Two large denim zones for women and men and functional multilabel-platforms. There was only one supplier shop with Tommy Denim. The reconstruction measures were enormous so that we had to move the whole store into a 1000 square meter tent over the course of four months. We invested one million euro into this project. Since then we didn’t carry out any major alterations, but rather made modifications concerning the suppliers. After all, the range changes constantly, especially after, in 2014, we gave shoes its own new platform with the concept Schuhwerk opposite the road.

How does your product range look like right now? Which are your anchor brands? And which brands did you recently add to your assortment?
Right now, Only, Vero Moda, Tally Weijl and Review are strong with women, and Jack & Jones is favored by men. Tommy Denim is also still a bestseller with men.

How do you stay in contact with your customers?
With Indigo we are active on Facebook and with our own website. Though we will update our website again this year.
20 years ago, I introduced a “pants passport” to engage customer loyalty. This way, we still get new customers addresses daily for our mailings. We also transferred this system onto Schuhwerk. Through mails we reach around 20,000 customer addresses.

Indigo, Großostheim
Indigo, Großostheim
Where do you buy your merchandise? How important are trade shows for you? And where do you inform yourself about new trends?
I am a regular trade show visitor and I can’t understand retailers, who don’t go to trade shows. For 10 years now, we also visit Pitti Uomo. Though Florence is expensive, it is always an appetizer for the upcoming season. Berlin changed a lot the past couple of seasons, but we also go there. In the past, we used to visit Bread & Butter, now with Premium, Panorama and Show & Order the offer is more suited and interesting for our fashion house Aubi. We plan in three days for Berlin to talk to suppliers and learn how they get ready for the new season. To find new things it comes down to a mix of conversations, luck and feel. Furthermore, the GDS, the ANWR in-house exhibitions and the 01 in Mainhausen are important for Schuhwerk. For Indigo, a compact trade show is missing. To meet at least a part of my suppliers I can visit four different fairs. The segment multibrand young fashion is hardly operated anymore, because it isn’t profitable for the trade show organizers or because these suppliers don’t need trade shows anymore.

When saying the Indigo segment is challenging: Did you achieve higher sales last year compared to the previous year? How do you explain this development?
Luckily, in 2015 we were able to stop Indigo’s stagnating turnovers with a par value. With 900 square meters we are almost too small again to display certain areas. For example, the menswear section is too small to adequately present the possibilities of a young men’s world. Given this, it’s actually about time to reorganize the store again. We would need a cool café, a product range extension towards Lifestyle books as well as accessories with jewelry and bags. Also, a bigger cooperation with Bestseller and Mango would be possible for us.
Through the verticals and online-retailers we have a huge competition with the younger target groups, which start in our company at fourteen years. Those customers are extremely contested. Since the renovation, we register a very good development in our fashion house Aubi. We were able to retain our regular customers and also win over new ones, who maybe feel like they are too old for Indigo.

Right now, which are the biggest challenges in retail?
Stand-alone multi label concepts like Indigo are rare in Germany. Most large fashion houses in a middle position usually just pick up this section on the basement floor. Left are specialists such as Görgens, Yeans Halle and Trendfabrik. Big brands make it hard for the retailers, because they dictate the conditions and decide when a cooperation ends. Nike for example chooses to take us out of the distribution lifestyle and rather services a retailer in the area who only operates over price comparison. Thereby, we lose the last unique selling propositions. Additionally, we are left with bad margins and low quantities. Also, how are we supposed to stay credible to our customers, when the supplier shops already offer a seemingly better price than we do. The customer doesn’t care that the industry has different margins and with that associated possibilities. This is only the beginning of the competitive pressure through verticals and online retailers.

What is your position concerning the integration of digital tools in stationary retail?
We work with an internally generated software for customer orders. Those orders can be collected by ipad in the store. The customer is kept up to date on the progress of the order by mail or SMS.
The order is then delivered to the store and ready to be picked up. But in general, individual orders are a delicate topic. It’s surprising, when stationary retail gets the chance of a customer order. Often it’s less available products but the customer still expects speed.

What do you base your choice in employees and their continuing education on?
We made good experiences with interning students. They were first able to get to know the occupation, completed an apprenticeship and were than adopted into the company.
Staff members have to be in the business for two years to know their strengths and weaknesses. Right now, we offer a staff member training with Andreas Nemeth.

Store's address:
Aschaffenburger Str. 42
63762 Großostheim