In Northern Europe, the name Dressmann is synonymous with high-quality, affordable, men’s fashion. With stores in 7 countries, the chain also has global reach through its online store that ships worldwide. Current CEO Petter Varner’s father Frank opened the first Dressmann store in Oslo in 1967, and his keen sense of style is still reflected in the retail chain today. “Before he opened Dressmann,” says Petter, “he owned a few stores called Varner where he sold fashionable menswear that he imported from London. Back then it was really cutting edge fashion—nobody had seen anything like it in Norway. The idea was to bring the latest in male fashion to the market at a reasonable price.
“We were initially really successful in Norway and that gave us the momentum to expand into new markets in northern Europe. The idea of being well dressed was our main focus, but it also had to be well priced.
“Our range consisted mainly of suits, blazers, ties and formal shirts. I took over the company in 1989 and at that time we wanted to grow, but the price of imports were really high. We sourced clothes from all over the world, and only bought enough for the short term, getting a new container every week.”
The business model worked for a while, but the cutting-edge style the stores were famous for started to disappear, so Petter decided it was time to shake things up a bit. “I was 27 and fearless,” he laughs. “I took the business focus back to very modern fashion and also built on the great culture we had. I also wanted to put the focus on good planning—thinking a lot more about seasons and campaigns, more about product stories and product development, and also pushing the need to buy in a more professional way.
“It was a success—gross profit was up, we had better margins and higher volumes, and we also expanded our customer reach. We really grew in a fantastic way, which was lucky for me because I was young and I’d just taken over the company. It could have turned out very differently, but by the late 90s I’d doubled our turnover. At that point we were only in Norway, but then we opened a store in Iceland and another one in Denmark,” says Petter.
In 1997, the company bought a chain of 47 stores in Sweden and converted them to the Dressmann brand. It turned out to be an extremely wise investment—it was an instant success, and in just 5 years, Dressmann was the market leader in Sweden.