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Thursday, 19 July, 2001, 16:52 GMT 17:52 UK
Topman customers 'hooligans'
Topman web site
Hooligan chic? Topman aims for a laddish image
Fashion bosses are battling to avoid a public relations disaster after the marketing chief of the Topman chain said its customers were "hooligans".


Very few of our customers have to wear suits to work. They'll be for his first interview or first court case

David Shepherd, Topman brand director
In an interview with a trade magazine, David Shepherd said Topman customers only wore a suit for their first interview or their first court appearance.

Retail giant Arcadia, which owns Topman, has defended Mr Shepherd's remarks, which they say were taken out of context.

But some analysts are comparing the gaffe to jewellery boss Gerald Ratner's infamous 1991 jibe that his shops sold "total crap".

That comment brought his business to the brink of bankruptcy.

'Dangerous'

Ben Perkins, retail consultant for Retail Intelligence, said: "These kind of statements whether made in a jocular way or not can have deep ramifications for any business.

"To publicly and negatively ridicule your core customers in that sense is a very dangerous thing."

An Arcadia spokeswoman said that as a season ticket holder at Queen's Park Rangers, Mr Shepherd was an "embodiment" of Topman's laddish image.

"David did not mean to cause any offence.

"He's very committed to his customers and his product," a spokeswoman for the retail giant said.

'Laddish element'

"Topman is a brand that has a very strong laddish element and David is the embodiment of that.


Topman is a brand that has a very strong laddish element and David is the embodiment of that

Topman spokesman
"He still loves to go pubbing and clubbing and uses that to monitor who the customer is and see that back into the brand," she added.

Not insulted

A spokeswoman told BBC NewsOnline that Topman's customers would not necessarily see the word "hooligan" as an insult.

"Amongst young men it is almost seen as a term of endearment," she said.

"David will be the first to admit that he is a bit of bloke.

"And that is who Topman is aiming at - geezers, lads, whatever you want to call them.

"David celebrates his customers, he is so committed to them and that is admirable," she added.

Mr Shepherd was responsible for turning the Topman brand around, she said, and contributing to a 180% increase profits of the combined Top Shop and Topman chain.

She said Mr Shepherd was "embarrassed" by his off-the-cuff remarks, which had been taken out of context.

The company said it does release profit figures for Topman on its own.

Customers re-evaluated

In an article in Menswear magazine, Mr Shepherd, a brand director, said: "We re-evaluated who our customer is and he's the everyday 18-year-old lad.

"He cares about what he wears but doesn't want to stand out."

When asked to clarify the Topman target customer, he said: "Hooligans or whatever".

He added: "Very few of our customers have to wear suits to work.

"They'll be for his first interview or first court case."

Mr Shepherd, 37, started out as a Saturday boy in the Topman sister store Topshop 21 years ago.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's business correspondent Rory Cellan Jones
"Mr Shepherd may regret his indiscretion"
See also:

05 Apr 01 | Business
Arcadia to sell five chains
04 Apr 01 | UK
Time called on FCUK posters
29 Jan 01 | e-cyclopedia
Yob culture: It's a fine line
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