Fresh Face

Peek and Cloppenburg Gets an Update

  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    In a tough retail market, clothing chains are scrambling to find new strategies to attract customers.

  • Facts


    • Retail clothing chain Peek & Cloppenburg is operated by two independent companies, the Düsseldorf-based P&C West and the Hamburg-based P&C North.
    • Dutch merchants Johann Theodor Peek and Heinrich Anton Adolph Cloppenburg began doing business in the Netherlands and later founded their company in Düsseldorf in 1900.
    • Peek & Cloppenburg operates in 15 European countries. Its biggest market is Germany, where is has 68 stores. It is ranked seventh among the top 10 clothing retailers in the country.
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The Cloppenburg family typically avoids the public eye. But the next generation wants to give their business a fresh face. Namely that of 47-year-old John Cloppenburg, who has taken on the role of spokesperson for their retail clothing company Peek & Cloppenburg (P&C).

In his first interview with Handelsblatt, he quickly gets to the point. “There are still cities in Germany where we would like to open new stores,” he said, adding that the company will probably begin building a new branch in Aachen this year. Munich and Freiburg are also potential new locations.

The clothing retailer is already strongly represented in Germany with 68 stores, but Mr. Cloppenburg acknowledges that business is difficult in the home market. “Last year was a challenge for us here in Germany,” he said.

The company’s 2016 figures won’t be announced until fall when its 100 shareholders meet in Düsseldorf. In 2015, however, P&C and its menswear chain Ansons were able to increase sales in the domestic market by a little less than 2 percent to some €1.5 billion, with an operational profit margin of 6 percent.

Just like its rivals, P&C is feeling the tough competition in the German fashion industry. A few companies such as Steilmann have slipped into insolvency, while Wöhrl and Strenesse are attempting a new start. And rival Gerry Weber hopes restructuring will bring it back onto the path of success.

2008 brought the establishment of a separate headquarters for Austria and Eastern Europe, where Mr. Cloppenburg said he “expects the highest rate of growth in the years to come."

Many clothing chains are suffering from a drop in customers who make shopping trips into the cities. Mr. Cloppenburg wants to counter this trend. “We want to upgrade our five top stores,” he said, adding that the stores will carry “fresh, high-quality brands” and “expand business with the store brand.” The possibility of opening restaurants in some stores is also on the table.

The hope is that these strategies will buttress the company, which grew rapidly between the 1960s and 1990s, and today is ranked seventh among the top 10 clothing retailers in Germany behind firms like Otto, H&M and C&A.

Founded in 1869 by the merchants Johann Theodor Peek and Heinrich Cloppenburg in Rotterdam, the company opened several menswear stores in the Netherlands. In 1900, they set up a commercial enterprise in Düsseldorf and the first stores in Germany.

In 1936, haberdashery was augmented by women’s fashion. Much later, in 1989, the family set up its own distribution channel Ansons for menswear. And 2008 brought the establishment of a separate headquarters for Austria and Eastern Europe, where Mr. Cloppenburg said he “expects the highest rate of growth in the years to come.”

In 1911, part of the family split off with its own firm in Hamburg. Commercially and legally autonomous, today it still operates stores primarily in northern Germany.

Now the fifth generation runs things in Düsseldorf. John Cloppenburg is responsible for purchases of premium brands like Hugo Boss and Armani. The trained businessman previously headed the company’s menswear chain Ansons. His sister Catharina, 31, runs the marketing division. And their brother Patrick, 34, handles business operations and is the official representative for their 76-year-old father and company head Harro Uwe Cloppenburg on the 13-member management board. They also have twin sibling who don’t work at P&C.

John Cloppenburg says that his father “has already delegated many tasks to my siblings and me.” But he acknowledges that their father is still active and provides important counsel. He advises his children, for example, “that P&C should be balanced – in terms of both style and prices.”

That sort of equilibrium, however, is not without its challenges. “P&C is oriented primarily toward customers who purchase mid-priced clothes. This target group is being hotly contested today by stores like Zara and H&M,” said Sabine Meister from the same-named consulting firm from Munich.

At the same time, P&C is competing with companies like Breuninger that concentrate on premium fashion. When Mr. Cloppenburg speaks about upheavals in the industry, he owns up to the company’s mistakes regarding things like online marketing.

“We were somewhat more cautious than others with respect to online business,” he said, adding that now the goal is to quickly raise online sales volume from 5 to 10 percent.


Georg Weishaupt covers the luxury and fashion industry for Handelsblatt. To contact the author:

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