Retail full circle

What makes an entrepreneur, who made his name selling mobile phones, try his hand at fashion?

Zak Patel has brought the Denham fashion brand to Leeds, opening the first high-street branch in the UK.
Zak Patel has brought the Denham fashion brand to Leeds, opening the first high-street branch in the UK.

For Dewsbury-born entrepreneur Zak Patel the answer is simple. “I’m a retailer,” he says.

Mr Patel made a name for himself with the rapid growth of his TalkDirect business – which, as a franchisee, has 14 O2 stores across the region.

Now he is turning his hand to fashion, having sealed a franchise agreement with fashion brand Denham.

In fact, by opening the first UK high-street branch of Denham in Leeds, Mr Patel has come full circle.

“I initially started in face-to-face retailing when I worked in Leeds Market every Saturday from the age of 13 until the age of 16. I was selling leather jackets for a local businessman and that’s how I basically started off,” he says.

Founded in Amsterdam by Englishman Jason Denham, the clothing company is looking to establish a presence in the UK and has chosen Mr Patel to lead the charge.

Mr Patel said: “They absolutely loved the fact that I wasn’t from the fashion industry. Somebody coming from a different angle, from a different perspective wanting the same thing – to be successful in retail.”

The different angle includes having a private wardrobe above the store in Leeds that customers can book out at no extra cost. It’s littered with quaint nautical flotsam and jetsam. A mirror and tables from old ships. Aged luggage cases belonging to passengers who had sailed on the Queen Elizabeth II.

There’s no seafaring significance to Denham but it just makes the private wardrobe environment unique, says Mr Patel.

The coffee does hold significance, though, as Mr Denham is a huge fan of the stuff, according to Zak Patel.

One other thing that holds significance is the Yorkshire connection; Mr Denham’s wife is originally from the region.

Mr Patel told Yorkshire Vision: “I’m so proud of being a local lad and bringing the Denham brand to Leeds. I could have taken it anywhere in the country but I wanted it to be in Leeds on Briggate.”

After selling jackets in Leeds Market, Mr Patel went to work for his auntie’s newsagents in Lancashire and from there he went on to running his own newsagents along with his brother and sister.

It was here that he had a watershed moment. Mr Patel said: “I can remember it very, very clearly – that particular day when the free promotion of the mobile phone dropped into the shop.

“It was a Motorola. It came brand new in the box and we decided put it up for sale. We got this mobile phone free for buying x amount of top-up cards and we sold it straight away.

“We thought wow, this is so much more profitable than running a convenience store and selling Mars Bars.

“It made me realise that this is something that maybe I need to build on, so we built a designated corner and one thing led to another and it became very successful.”

This then led to the birth of TalkDirect, which in 2012 saw what Mr Patel describes as a “massive” expansion – going from four stores to 12, and eventually 14 across the region.

The group now has over 150 employees. “It was a very, very quick expansion,” says Mr Patel.

Fast-forward to 2015 and he is not only responsible for helping an Englishman launch his brand from Amsterdam, or his existing chain of O2 franchise stores, but has also just announced a deal with California-based upmarket frozen yoghurt firm Pinkberry.

“We’ve got exclusivity for the whole of the North,” says Mr Patel, explaining the Pinkberry deal.

Pinkberry Ventures will be run separately from TalkDirect and Denham UK. Mr Patel says he has already begun scouting out potential sites.

“As an entrepreneur, as a businessman, you’re always looking for the next thing. Business is about opportunities,” says Mr Patel.