Who is behind
the leading UK
perfume brands?

An interview with Kenneth Green,
Founder and Chairman
Kenneth Green Associates

With an 8% share of the ‘hugely competitive’ perfume market in the UK and Ireland since starting out in 1990.

Key points
  • All achieved with Kenneth Green’s leadership and three brand values – ‘pleasure, professionalism and integrity’, plus a unique ‘family’ culture and the sheer energy, enthusiasm and empowerment of his employees.
  • A highly supportive culture means that everyone feels that their career development is important to the company and this attracts and keeps people who make the business successful.
  • A small quirky example – the unique handwritten personalised ‘thank you’ notes on gilt-edged cards are a Kenneth Green hallmark that he refuses to relinquish despite the ubiquitous email.

Unless they’re in the know, it’s unlikely someone will be familiar with the name Kenneth Green Associates, but the founder and chairman of the eponymous business doesn’t mind a jot. “We aren’t a ‘household’ B2B or B2C brand; we don’t promote our name outside the trade,” says Green. “When I’m asked at a dinner parties what I do, I just say I sell perfume.”

What most people will have heard of are the brands represented by the company he set up with his wife. KGA are the UK and Ireland distributor (and sales, marketing and PR provider) for more than twenty-five international perfume brands and its job is to look after and communicate those brands to consumers and to retail customers such as Harrods, Debenhams, and House of Fraser.

 

Kenneth Green,
Chairman, KGA

Such as Jimmy Choo, one of the top twenty perfume brands in the UK. In helping to launch their Fever fragrance in 2018, KGA worked closely with the French company which has the worldwide Jimmy Choo licence.

Originally a shoe brand, Jimmy Choo is a prime example of successful diversification from one product category to another. The key is having the right ‘name’ or personality behind the brand, says Green. “We brought Jean-Paul Gaultier’s perfume to this country and one of the reasons for its success was that he had been a presenter on the cult television show Eurotrash. People didn’t necessarily know Jean-Paul Gaultier was a fashion designer, but they liked him because he was fun and a nice man. Paul Smith too. We launched his perfume, and again, it’s a successful brand based on that personal resonance.”

KGA employ more than 300 people, and Green says that having “internal” brand values means that a distinctive culture has been developed. He observes: “It’s a hackneyed phrase but we have a family atmosphere where people feel a sense of belonging.”

“Originally a shoe brand, Jimmy Choo is a prime example of successful diversification from one product category to another. The key is having the right ‘name’ or personality behind the brand”

In fact those brand values - pleasure, professionalism, integrity - couldn’t be more simply put. By pleasure, Green means “giving people space and let them be creative. If you have happy people who enjoy what they do, you get ten times more energy and productivity from them.” And integrity? “It’s about respect,” says Green, ‘treating people the way you would like to be treated. “Also, you have to do what you say will do and act well as a habit, not an exception. We don’t do integrity sometimes.” He feels it’s important to have clear leadership to ensure everyone is working in the same direction and that the brand values are being perpetuated, but at the same time, he dislikes strict hierarchy.

“A company needs a sergeant to say ‘we’re going in that direction’, and people need to understand the limits of their operational authority, but it’s no good having experts if you don’t empower them and allow them to manage.” Green has won a leadership award in The Sunday Times Best Companies to Work For list. Some 93% of staff – among the survey’s highest scores - described him as inspiring.

Interestingly, he operates what he calls circular management, where the lines of communication can be bypassed in order to make things move quicker. “For example if I want to know what’s happening in Manchester I won’t necessarily ring up the retail director but I will ring the local manager who reports to her,” Green explains.

“That only works because there is trust,” says Green, “which again is about integrity. That manager is two away from me but after talking to me her job is to tell her boss that I phoned her. And I will also tell her boss that I spoke to her. It creates a circle of us all talking to one another and you don’t have a situation where someone feels left out of the loop.”

Green also likes to make communication distinctive by writing personalised, handwritten notes to staff on gilt-edged white cards.

“It’s an antidote to the digital age, in a sense,” he smiles. “The advent of e-commerce and technology has meant big changes for retailing and one of our big challenges is how to adapt to that, but the accompanying danger is that communication has become less courteous and nobody talks to each other on the phone any more.”

Since the company was started in Green’s spare room in 1990, KGA have grown to take an 8% share of the market, although it has become even more “hugely competitive.” As well as competition from other distributors, there are brands which use the internet as a means of selling direct to retailers.

Which is why Green avers that having a friendly and supportive culture driven by those ‘internal’ brand values helps KGA to attract and keep the people who make the business successful. But he also believes many people don’t know what company culture really is until they have experienced the absence of it.  “I worked for the same firm for twenty-three years,” he recalls, “where I had a fantastic boss and mentor. Then I went to a new company in a big-shot job where my biggest hurdle was the different culture, one I just wasn’t comfortable with.”

Not that he’s suggesting that a culture should be static. In fact what Green actively seeks out are the ideas and experience that people bring with them from their previous jobs, making a point of speaking to each new staff member when they join and then again after about three months.

Using an analogy, he says: “I don’t see the threadbare carpet because I walk over it every day, but after a hundred days or so, there will be interesting things they have seen about it that I haven’t noticed.”

Researched and written by Decision Magazine as part of a special report commissioned by Greenfisher, called ‘Business As Unusual - Secure the Future of your Brand’.

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