George Davies – His vision and his business savvy are behind the incredible successful household-name brands NEXT, George at Asda, Per Una at Marks and Spencer and FG4 in the Middle-East.
George was born in Crosby in 1941 and attended Bootle Grammar School. His Father, who he describes as a gentle man, was a General Manager of a factory, producing sausages, pies and cooked meats, whilst his Mother, the dominant force of the family, ran a post office. As a child, George was used to seeing his mum, auntie and cousin cutting out patterns and making dresses at home in preference to shopping on the high street. While both his parents have been influential in his life, those early experiences with his mother must have made a deep impact that was to surface powerfully in his adult life.
His father passed on a love of football and, in particular, a love of Liverpool Football Club which, George still supports. George himself was an International Football player, scoring the winning goal for the England under 18’s v Scotland at Turf Moor. The following day, the legendary Bill Shankley invited him for trials at Liverpool FC. He went on to play for Bangor City and Marine British Universities.
Leaving school with no particular career in mind, it was his mother who was determined that George should make something of his life, and in cahoots with his head-teacher, got him an interview at Birmingham University to study Dentistry. Teeth, however, did not prove to be George’s forte and he left University to return to Liverpool where he applied for and obtained at job at Littlewoods.
Littlewoods was the beginning of an era for George, first working in stock control and then as a buyer where he had the support of a fantastic training programme on buying and design, and was given the opportunity to spend time visiting Yorkshire woollen mills and Lancashire cotton mills, knitting mills and other factories within the Midlands. Littlewoods had a huge impact on George’s career and he has never looked back.
At the age of 28, George launched his ‘Schoolcare’ range, providing specialised school outfits to hundreds of schools through home-shopping. Three years later Schoolcare was to merge with Rosgil Holdings, who were a party plan direct sales group, selling the womenswear under the name of Pippa Dee and chidrenswear brand, d-minor, this is where George showed his creative vision developing ladies fashion alongside the lingerie business. The merger soon became the driving force behind the sales operations, and later became the foundation of his ‘total look concept’
His success at Pippa Dee led to an approach from Sir Terrance Conran in 1981, who was the Chairman of the Hepworth Mens Group, who wanted to launch into womenswear. Hepworth purchased Kendall’s ladieswear, with 70 small High Street stores and in February 1982 Next women’s fashion was born.
During the 1980’s George developed menswear, childrenswear, lingerie, footwear, jewellery, coffee shops and Next Interiors. The stores expanded from 1,000 square foot to 20,000 square foot in the major cities.
One of the most significant launches was the Next Directory, an impressive home shopping catalogue, featuring sample cloth swatches and delivering to home or office within 48 hours from order, with a unique presentation, hanging many garments to ensure perfect receipt. At that time, all the competitor’s catalogues took 28 days to deliver.
The following year Next launched the Garden Directory.
In December 1988 George was ousted, in a widely publicised coup, making the front pages of all the major dailies.
In 1990 George was approached by Asda, one of the largest out of town retailers, to create a fashionable clothing range. This time the brand was called ‘George’ offering ladieswear, menswear and childrenswear at great value with quality and style.
The George brand was a great success, creating a key competitive difference to the other supermarkets, Tesco and Sainsbury’s, who eventually followed suit.
In 1995 Asda purchased the George brand, George continued running the brand until 1999.
Shortly after, Walmart purchased Asda and have developed the George brand to be one of the biggest clothing brands in the world.
Not surprisingly, in 2001, George was approached by Marks and Spencer about developing a ladies fashion collection for the 25 plus market. The collection was called Per Una and the brand was owned by George and was the first independent womenswear brand Marks & Spencer had ever sold in the business.
George and his team, not only created a supply of clothing and accessories, but also re-designed the space in the stores and trained all the retail colleagues. To achieve this, George built and created a ‘nerve centre’ within the Cotswolds and five international supply hubs, taking only a mere 6 months after signing the contract to launch the collection on 28th September 2001.
The response received from Marks & Spencer customers from day one was fantastic and was fundamental to a positive turnaround of the business. Marks and Spencer recognised the importance of the brand in their long term strategy and in October 2004 bought Per Una from George.
Over the next four years, he further expanded the brand in the UK and internationally, as George continued as Chairman and Chief Executive of Per Una, leaving the company in December 2008.
George and his team created his fourth major brand, FG4, opening stand-alone stores in the Middle-East, selling children’s and ladies fashion clothing.
The first store was launched in February 2011 in Saudi Arabia and now has over 78 stores in various locations in the Middle East. The FG4 range has also now expanded into United Arab Emirates. 5 children’s stores have been opened in 2014 and a ladies store will open in September 2014.
Less well known is George’s charitable work, where he takes a keen interest in supporting many Health and Educational charities, both in the UK and internationally. George Davies Charitable Trust
Since being named as the Guardian Business man of the year in 1985, George has been the recipient of countless awards recognising his major contribution in fashion, design, retail and business in a career that spans over 40 years. Awards