“I was a reluctant lingerie man, to be honest with you,” says Theo Paphitis. “It fell in my lap, missus, as they say.”
Paphitis, 53, is still best known for his role on Dragon’s Den, although he left the BBC series earlier this year to concentrate on his High Street lingerie chain Boux Avenue. He is, it seems, drawn to underwear, having already been involved with two brands, Contessa and La Senza, selling off his interests in 2006. “I thought, well, that’s me and lingerie over with, and you know what? Within a year, I was missing it.”
He lives in Surrey with his wife, Debbie – Mrs P – and their 17-year-old twin girls (they have five children; the eldest is 34). “I love going home, listening to my daughters telling me something, my wife telling me something. Everybody’s got an opinion on lingerie.”
First and foremost, he is a shopkeeper, he says. “I love being in shops, I love developing, I love fashion, I love the experience.”
No two days are the same. “I am not a very early riser – I’ve got to be honest – about seven o’clock is up-time for me, because the kids have to be at school before eight.”
He then sets off, either for his chairman’s office in Wimbledon, or to London for meetings, or to head office in Crewe, and more travelling.
“I do 100,000 miles a year. My real office is my car. I work in there, I eat in there, I sleep in there, I take calls in there, I’ve got broadband.”
Extensive research has told him that what women want to find in a lingerie shop is opulence, experience, service, warm surroundings and affordability. “The thing that came back to us was, ‘why do I have to buy my undies with the cooked chicken and the coleslaw and put it in a plastic bag?’
“Another thing we heard – it’s mother and daughter. ‘I want to be happy to go in there with my mum, I want to be happy to go in there with my daughter’.”
Paphitis launched Boux Avenue mid-recession, on April 1, 2011, but there is no wrong time to launch a business, he says. “Whether we are in recession or in the peak of a consumer explosion, it’s about your product and it’s about what you are doing. If there is a market for your service, then now is the time to start your business, but I am going to put some health warnings on that, and that is ‘do your bloody homework’.”
He points out that 50 per cent of all small businesses fail within the first two years. “That’s an appalling statistic.” he says. “Often people ask me, where does the BBC get those people on Dragon’s Den? They come in, they don’t know their numbers, they don’t know the market, and they want to start their business. And you know what I tell them? The great British public, because that is how people start businesses.
“Above all else, make sure you have enough cash flow for a bad stint because, whatever business you are in, it will have a bad spell. Businesses do.”
An ambassador for Children in Need and Comic Relief and a supporter of new business, Paphitis believes in putting something back.
“Social responsibility is important to all of us,” he says. “My other businesses like Rymans, Robert Dyas, are very much still focused in the High Street, so they are serving local communities.
“You have a responsibility to that community because that’s what keeps you alive.
“Believe you me, this is a win-win situation. If you are a position to invest by giving back, I promise you the returns by far outweigh the effort and the cost of actually giving in the first place.”
Paphitis has eyes on Harrogate
There are 18 Boux Avenue stores in Yorkshire, including two in Yorkshire, at Sheffield’s Meadowhall and a newly opened shop at White Rose in Leeds.
The brand offers lingerie, nightwear and swimwear, priding itself on catering for all shapes, sizes and ages of women.
Overseas, there are stores in Iceland, Gibraltar and Malta, with openings soon in Bulgaria and the Middle East. Paphitis also is looking for more UK suitable sites, including in Harrogate.