Brilliant Tactician

Folli Follie’s numbers man has descended from Greek warrior and swapped spears for spreadsheets

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Ioannis (John) Begietis may be known as the numbers man for FF Group, a family-run fashion company that owns the Folli Follie and Links of London labels. He’s the company’s global chief financial officer, and chief operating officer at its Asia-Pacific headquarters.

But little do people know that the Greek is, literally, a present-day Spartan warrior.

He’s descended from a historical military family that can trace its roots back to the reign under Leonidas, the Spartan king portrayed by Gerard Butler in the 2006 film, 300.

Begietis and his brother are the first generation in the family who have exchanged spears and shields for spreadsheets. “Some say my forefathers were the descendants of King Leonidas. My grandfather was an army general. My father was an admiral in the navy,” he said.

“I joined the national service right after my studies in the United States. I was in the air force as a finance officer for two years. I got to try some new anti-aircraft weapons and really cool guns,” the 50-year-old recalled.

Undergoing a different rite of passage – marked by expat assignments in the business world – Begietis relocated to Hong Kong in 2011.

He now oversees about 320 retail stores in East and Southeast Asia, and his main responsibilities include the overseas expansion of Folli Follie.

Folli Follie has been expanding rapidly in Asia, with the Asian market now contributing significant revenues to the Athens-based FF Group. Its annual sales have risen from 300 million euros (HK$2.54 billion) to 1.3 billion euros in the 11 years since Begietis climbed aboard.

In Hong Kong, the label has accelerated the pace of setting up stores in prime shopping districts. Last October, it opened a new outlet store at E-Max WearHouse in Kowloon Bay, followed by another at Florentia Village in Kwai Chung in March. This summer, it plans to add two or three regular stores in the SAR.

Including locations at Horizon Plaza in Ap Lei Chau and Plaza Hollywood in Diamond Hill, Folli Follie now has four outlet stores in Hong Kong.

In the past, brands opened such stores to liquidate unsold inventory but modern practices are changing. Outlet shops form a part of the present-day omni-channel retail strategy of top fashion labels. They stock not only past-season items, but also special collections.

An example is Japan, where Begietis has restructured the Folli Follie brand after the acquisition of a joint venture partner in 2008. A new marketing image and merchandise offers helped the label recruit young female office workers as loyal customers.

“In Japan, we have a sizable number – 16 outlet stores. They are located far away from the main cities. They have not overtaken the local market sales, but are a very profitable segment,” Begietis said. “The most successful outlet venture usually happens in a mature market. You have to have a clientele who knows what the full price items are, and can differentiate them from the special lines or discounted items.”

In the local outlet stores, past-season items account for only 15 percent of the entire catalog. They are sold at a minimum 30 percent discount. The rest are specialty products: for example, men’s watches exclusive to the outlets.

Begietis intends to use the stores to tap a new clientele, and slowly lead them into adopting the habit of purchasing full-price items.

“Everybody talks about the retail business going down, but nobody talks about the local people as a shopping power,” he said. “They are all looking at the tens of millions of travelers coming, which is fantastic. But it’s a chance business. So local customers are always our target.”

Begietis relies on his staff to keep a finger on the pulse of the market. He is one of the few expatriate managers who work at the group’s Asia-Pacific headquarters in Hong Kong.

“I am a tactician. Retail is like chess. You should always make the right steps to go to the top. Of course, when you play a game, you should prepare to lose. But nobody plans to lose. Everybody plans to win.

“I think you have a better chance of winning if you involve the local people. This is true, not just in Hong Kong but everywhere.”

The article first appeared in the Standard on May 12, 2017.

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