01/02/2012

By Hatty Stafford Charles, AngelNews

Even as a Somerset schoolboy, Roger Saul’s entrepreneurial instinct was to go for quality to make him money. His first taste of fashion – and profit – was realised in buying Victorian military uniforms at auction and selling them on Portobello Road. His interest in history, combined with the fashions of the day (think Sgt Pepper), led him to seek out the best quality uniforms at Sotherby’s and Christie’s, where he was able to mix his hobby with “things of interest and beauty that you could wear” and make money.

Of course he has been most well known until now as founder of Mulberry. What Roger has learnt through his experience there is now coming to play in his latest project discount Designer Brand village, Kilver Court.

For an entrepreneur, fashion is fast and furious. You’ve got to be pretty capable, adaptable and flexible across the board and plan. You have to be very good at imagining where you are going to be next,” says Roger and he is certainly putting this to practice at Kilver.

Roger had bought Kilver Court in 1996 to be the Mulberry Headquarters. It was no more than a sensible financial decision at the time, but when he left the company, its factory shop remained as one of the tenants on the site. It was the success of the shop that inspired Roger to start redeveloping the site in 2011 as a new concept outlet site.

“The Mulberry customer started with belts and handbags, moving to sunglasses and watches and then homeware and a whole lifestyle, but all the way through you are talking to the same customer base.” Roger has applied the same philosophy to Sharpham Park Food and is doing it again with Kilver Court.

Having started with the restored garden and Farm shop, he started looking at what else could offer the 100,000+ visitors who were now visiting the site annually. Although initially diffident about stepping back into the fashion world, he saw that retail needed new ideas so he decided to step back into that world but as a landlord, not as a tenant. After all, designer brands are thriving in the current climate.

Within six months, the South West which traditionally has not been well served for high-end shopping, despite the financial profile of many of its (new) residents, has seen Kilver Court introduce 15 brands to its Emporium and its first Aubin & Wills outlet. 3 more major British brands are set to turn up in spring 2012.

Kilver Court has, of course, been funded so far by capital and the bank but already Roger is once again dipping his toe in the water with external investors. He believes that there is plenty of money to invest but that investors are risk-averse and cautious, particularly in respect of commercial property and the fact that the next phase for Kilver Court is currently a blank canvas.

He needs to be confident that investors have the vision to see his plans through as well as confidence in Roger himself as a style visionary. He is certain that he will find such people – and certain that Kilver Court will have a long-term future in the ever changing world of designer fashion.

“You’ve got to have the courage of your convictions. I’ve learnt that this is a journey and you need to enjoy the journey itself, not just the end of the journey. Parts of the journey will be difficult with good moments and bad but you’ve got to have the energy to get through the long, deep potholes and trenches. Enjoy the good times, but remember that you will have difficult times again. Resilience is hugely important. Savour the journey but be planning, planning all the time.”

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