Ledbury’s growth gains national recognition
After graduating from Oxford University’s MBA program in 2008, Paul Trible and Paul Watson seemed to have their future careers planned out.
Trible had a job lined up in Shanghai, while Watson was set to start working in London. But when Lehman Brothers, the fourth-largest investment bank in the U.S., filed for bankruptcy, those financial industry job offers disappeared.
The bankruptcy, the largest in U.S. history, played a major role in the global financial crisis of 2008-09.
“It was really one of those [moments] where we looked at one another and were like … ‘We’ve got to look at it as an opportunity not as … it’s a recession, and we’ve got to go back to doing what we were doing before business school.’ So, we dusted off this idea that we had been kicking around during business school, which was an ‘unnamed’ brand shirt retailer and decided to go for it,” says Watson.
He is now chief operating officer of that Richmond-based retailer, Ledbury, while Trible is the designer and CEO. They wrote the company’s business plan at a pub on London’s Ledbury Road, hence the name.
Before business school, Trible led Operation Smile U.K., the British arm of a Virginia Beach-based nonprofit medical charity. (He is the son of Christopher Newport University President Paul Trible, a former U.S. senator.) Watson was a foreign policy specialist for the U.S. Department of Defense.
Today, Ledbury’s sales are more than doubling each year, and in January it posted annual revenues of $4 million.
Ledbury’s menswear brand is mostly known for its shirts made from Italian fabric. The company, however, also produces blazers, sports coats and accessories (including belts and cuff links designed by Virginia artisans). In 2013, Ledbury sold 32,000 shirts, twice the number sold the previous year.
Ledbury recently was named to Forbes’ list of “America’s Most Promising Companies.” According to Forbes, Ledbury has raised $2.2 million from private investors. Watson says the company is raising another round of capital, which it hopes to close in June.
The company’s only brick-and-mortar store is in a former tobacco warehouse in downtown Richmond. The 500-square-foot space was renovated last year.
“We basically went out to Trible’s [family] farm [outside of Kilmarnock] and repurposed a bunch of barn wood to make a very nice and sort of small shirt shop,” Watson says.
Although more stores aren’t out of the question, Ledbury is focusing on the Internet as its primary distribution channel. The company also plans to set up more temporary, “pop-up shops” in areas where the company has strong sales. Ledbury’s target customers, Watson says, are men ages 32 to 55.
Last year, Ledbury set up monthlong shops at Stony Point Fashion Park in Richmond and the Georgetown area of Washington, D.C. This spring Ledbury’s “pop-up” shops will appear in Dallas or Houston, Watson says.
“It allows us to get in front of more of those customers and really give them the sort of full brand experience by setting up shop literally for a couple of weeks and inviting them to feel the fabrics, try on the shirts and experience the brand,” Watson says.