How Next is expanding its global retail empire

The Next store on Oxford Street, London. Picture: Next
As competitors struggle to adapt to changing customer behaviour, Next has shown remarkable resilience, extending its offering to dozens of countries

The rise and rise of British clothing brand Next continues.

A deal has been sealed for the retail heavyweight to purchase FatFace for around US$140m, further growing Next’s business empire. 

It has been emphasised, however, that FatFace will retain its “management autonomy and creative independence”, according to a statement on the London Stock Exchange

This latest acquisition comes hot on the heels of Next reducing fellow British fashion chains Joules and Cath Kidston from administration, while it also has stakes in Gap, Victoria’s Secret, Reiss and JoJo Maman Bébé.

As competitors struggle to adapt to changing customer behaviour and fall by the wayside, Next has shown remarkable resilience, extending its offering to dozens of countries across the globe. 

The Next portfolio continues to grow. Picture: Next

Next: A company steeped in history

Next can trace its roots all the way back to 1864, when Joseph Hepworth & Son, a gentleman’s tailors, was established in Leeds, UK. 

Over the ensuing decades, the business grew exponentially – to the point where it had become the nation’s largest clothing manufacturer by the end of the First World War. 

The name Next was first used in 1981, when Hepworth’s bought the womenswear retailer Kendall & Sons and gave it a new identity. By mid-1982, there were 70 Next stores dotted around the UK and, a couple of years later, Next for Men was launched. 

As childrenswear, home interiors and cafés were added to the company’s portfolio, various department stores began to open, including in London’s famous Regent Street, before all capabilities were brought together under the ‘one brand; two ways of shopping’ strategy in 1993. 

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This became ‘three ways’ just prior to the turn of the century, when Next Directory made shopping from home possible. A significant moment came in 2008 when this service was broadened to include the USA and more than 30 other countries, reflecting the organisation’s increasing popularity and evolving ambition. 

Today, Next operates around 550 stores in the UK and another 200 across Europe, the Middle East and Asia, which make up the Next International side of the business. 

Taking things to the Next level

At the helm at Next is Lord Simon Wolfson, who has served as CEO since 2001. He is the son of Baron David Wolfson, who was Chairman of the company from 1990 to 1998. 

Lord Wolfson started out as a sales assistant in 1991 and progressed rapidly through the ranks to become Retail Sales Director just two years later. 

In 1995 he took responsibility for Next Directory and was first appointed to the board in 1997. 

Lord Simon Wolfson, CEO at Next. Picture: Next

During Lord Wolfson’s stewardship, Next has received praise for its meticulous attention to detail and the way it constantly strives for improvement. 

The rebrand of Next Directory to Next Online, in 2018, saw the firm strengthen its position in the ecommerce market, while the ‘Total Platform’ – a service allowing third-party retailers to utilise Next’s online software and infrastructure – has allowed it to take on new clients, make bold investments and, ultimately, boost revenue. 

Lord Wolfson is ably supported by Chairman Michael Roney, who previously served as CEO at Goodyear Dunlop Europe and Bunzl, while Amanda James heads up the finance function having been with the group since 1995. 

Making sustainability progress

Next is committed across the board to becoming a more sustainable enterprise.

Headline targets include a 55% reduction in Scope 1 and 2 absolute carbon emissions by 2030 against a 2016/17 baseline, of which it has achieved 47%.

Next has continued to expand its homeware offering over the years. Picture: Next

For Scope 3, the business has achieved a 29% reduction in emissions and is hoping to achieve 40% by 2030. 

Next is proud to already be diverting 95% of its operational waste from landfill, and is working closely with contractors and suppliers to identify opportunities for circularity.

Employing 44,000 people across the world, the pressure is also firmly on Next to create a healthy, happy workplace culture.

While it doesn’t set specific diversity targets, at the beginning of 2023 women represented 36% of the board, 43% of the senior leadership team and 70% of the workforce as a whole. The company’s diversity efforts were recognised in the FTSE Women Leaders Review for 2023, in which Next placed second.

Throughout the year, training sessions on equality, diversity and inclusion are provided to more than 850 employees in retail and head office teams, aimed at exploring unconscious bias, discussing examples of inappropriate behaviour and discrimination, and providing guidance on how to positively influence the behaviour of others.

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