Magazine article Marketing

Full Steam Ahead at Sketchley

Magazine article Marketing

Full Steam Ahead at Sketchley

Article excerpt

Meet John Jackson, the man behind such diverse brands as Mates condoms and Virgin Cola, who is now striving to put the steam back into dry-cleaners Sketchley.

You name it, he's been there: friend of Richard Branson, architect of the Virgin-backed consortium bid for the National Lottery, and Anita Roddick's right-hand man at the Body Shop in the 80s.

So why would a man of his calibre be tempted to go into the dry-cleaning business?

"I wanted to get back into mainstream management and put all the skills I had learnt along the way into practice - Sketchley fitted the bill," says Jackson.

Since his installment as chief executive last October, the Sketchley brand has already gained a higher profile on the high street. In order to generate higher footfall, drive up sales per square foot and save on the cost of new high street sites he has married two brands.

Supasnaps, a well known brand of photo processors in the north, is piggy-backing on Sketchley retail sites in the south. At present there are 65 joint shops with 250 planned by 1997.

Sales are up 1% in a tough market which is both fragmented and arouses little excitement in the consumer who views dry-cleaning as a grudge spend.

"We have to get away from the norm of dry-cleaning which isn't that good. You know, all that poor housekeeping and that smell," he says as a barely perceptible grin comes across his face.

To that end he has brought in Nick Joslin from Virgin to head the newly-created marketing department. Together they set out to apply the time-honoured principle that retail is all about detail. He has introduced the aroma of 'grapefruit and grass' and background music to the shops - a trick he learnt from Anita Roddick and one he took away with him when the two parted company in May 1993. A wave of nostalgia comes over him as he reminisces on the good old days.

"I remember we used to go down the high street and splash it all over the shops to make it smell nice," he says, his gentle Yorkshire lilt getting stronger as a picture of him and Anita skipping down the street armed with bottles of avocado and primrose oil formulates in his mind.

That image, however, could not be further from the reality. Jackson is 47, with a greying brash of hair crowning a lived-in face that betrays the long hours he works. He sports half-moon specs and a sensible, though well-cut suit. And he doesn't smile much.

His achievements are many but he brings new meaning to the word modesty. If Jackson were to be believed then we would be fooled into thinking that he just sat in a big chair and picked the right team for his marketing ventures.

Dominic Proctor, chief executive of J Walter Thompson, worked with him on The Lottery Foundation bid when Jackson managed to marshall big guns such as Mars and IBM and headed a team of 65 people. "Don't take him at face value," says Proctor. "Behind that calm exterior is someone with a sharp and clear point of view."

Jackson's track record is testament to his flexibility. He began life as an accountant at Bristol-Myers but "luckily I had the chance to go into marketing and retailing". In 1982 he took over as chairman and managing director of Chesebrough-Pond's, home to Prince rackets and Ragu sauce. In the four years he was there sales doubled and profits increased five-fold. …

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