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BMB (Blue Max Banner) on its acquisition of SWI Schoolwear.

By Laura Turner

10 October 2016

On 1 July, a deal was signed that saw BMB (Blue Max Banner) acquire SWI Schoolwear. Renowned for its sportswear portfolio, SWI Schoolwear will enable BMB to further extend its reach into the sportswear market, as BMB’s chief executive, Nigel Plenderleith, explains. 
Laura Turner: What led to BMB (Blue Max Banner) acquiring SWI Schoolwear? 
Nigel Plenderleith: Since BMB’s management buyout in July 2015, our strategy has been to build the sportswear, marketing and product development side of the business. SWI Schoolwear already has an established reputation in the industry for a strong, high-performance sportswear offering, designed in collaboration with athletes and students. The addition of SWI Schoolwear’s sportswear to BMB’s current line-up, which has already been recently expanded with the acquisition of Orion Teamwear earlier this year, will enable us to further extend our reach into this profitable, but fiercely competitive, sector. 
LT: How exactly will the acquisition enhance BMB’s offer? 
NP: The acquisition of SWI Schoolwear will help us as a group to improve our marketing skills and develop a greater understanding of the needs of the market. The enlarged group will be the largest schoolwear provider in the UK, and our key ambition is to offer the best service, quality and value in the industry. 
The market continues to change, and we are conscious that we need to have our finger on the pulse, evolving and adapting the business to keep it moving forward. Using the combined resources of both businesses, we are confident of delivering exciting, quality products to customers that are genuinely innovative and that forge new ground in the schoolwear marketplace.
LT: What makes the businesses a good fit?
NP: SWI Schoolwear’s core capabilities are in design, product development and marketing, while SWI Schoolwear’s customers will benefit from BMB’s operational expertise and unrivalled commitment to customer service. Combined with BMB’s extensive experience and product portfolio, our opportunities for growth as an enlarged group are greatly enhanced, enabling us to drive the entire market with high quality clothing on a much larger scale. We are very excited at the prospect of joining learnings and best practice from both businesses to take the company forward.
LT: What’s the history behind SWI Schoolwear? 
NP: Kirk Robertson, a former product designer for Adidas, set up SWI Schoolwear 13 years ago. The objective of the business was to offer performance sportswear exclusively to schools. SWI Schoolwear’s reputation for its understanding of the evolving needs of the school sportswear market was greatly enhanced when two PE teachers joined the company as board members. It was a natural next step for SWI Schoolwear to expand its offering to incorporate school uniform in 2007.
LT: What does SWI Schoolwear offer product-wise? 
NP: The SWI Schoolwear portfolio is currently divided into five key categories; business, traditional and informal school uniform as well as two sportswear brands, APTUS and S-TecX. 
LT: Are more acquisitions a consideration for BMB?
NP: Driving market innovation and raising standards through growth is part of our core strategy. Following two strategic acquisitions since last year’s management buyout, our key priority at this stage is to ensure a smooth integration within the BMB business whilst continuing to deliver outstanding service to our customers. 
LT: What factors set BMB apart from its competitors? 
NP: We believe that our commitment to customer service gives us a distinct advantage. This year alone, we have made a significantly increased investment in stock, meaning we can deliver a greater number of garments to schools all year round, not just during peak season. We have also established our own in-house embroidery department to offer added value to our customers. We have listened to our customers and as a direct result, have improved our service commitment during this year’s BTS period by extending opening hours to include weekends and guaranteeing next day delivery for orders placed up to 6pm. We are constantly exploring opportunities to source globally and to use our purchasing power to work with manufacturers to maximise efficiencies and keep costs where they need to be. 
LT: Where are you exploring for growth and development?
NP: We will be looking to forge new ground in product development, improving styling, fabrics, sizing and fit of current collections. We want to appeal to a broader customer base, as well as intensifying our efforts in marketing and branding. We’re also working to make our schoolwear offering clearer and easier for the customer to understand. Other focuses include continuing to build on our strong reputation in the market for providing stock supported products in a variety of size options to cater for evolving customer needs. Ultimately, we want to become the one stop shop for all schoolwear needs – uniform and sportswear.
LT: How do you view the current market? 
NP: Over the last two years, the market has been relatively stable from a supplier perspective. However, the Brexit vote has brought an unwelcome dimension, as a substantial proportion of product is purchased in foreign currency. As a consequence, we are facing significant price rises. The challenge is to find a way to minimise this impact on the consumer to prevent potential migration to supermarkets.
Academies have been a major factor in the growth of the schoolwear market in recent years. As such, we welcome the call for an increase in the number of academies across the UK as it presents an ongoing opportunity for ourselves and the whole of the industry. 


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