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Tilmar Hansen: the company founder in conversation
The NEW YORKER success story began exactly 50 years ago in Flensburg. Tilmar Hansen, a recent high school graduate, opened a jeans store together with his friend Michael Simson in Schleswig-Holstein's third largest city. For 30 years, until the year 2001, the NEW YORKER founder then shaped the history of the company and, together with his later partner and today's sole managing partner Friedrich Knapp, laid the foundation for today's success. We asked Tilmar Hansen about his memories of those days.
What was particularly trendy in 1971, the year NEW YORKER was founded?
Denim was very much in vogue in the 1970s. At the time, styles from Wrangler, Lee and Levi's were absolutely in. And since there was such an up-and-coming mood with the trends from the U.S., my idea was to open a specialty store for jeans right after I graduated from high school. At that time, there was no store where you could buy jeans sorted by brands, sizes and styles. Jeans with a broken twill fabric or a used look were very popular. In terms of styles, there were bell-bottoms and jeans with a large flare and also very low-sitting low waist pants. Some of the trends can be seen again today.
The first pair of pants I sold, by the way, were dark blue Levi's corduroy pants in size 32/34.

You founded NEW YORKER and were part of it for 30 years. Your fondest memory from that time?
I always like to remember the new openings. It was exciting every time: Will the location work? How will the goods be received? Renting new locations wasn't easy either, people were cautious. We were always very lucky with the employees - old employees always inspired the new ones with the unique NEW YORKER spirit. When the special offers were sold out and long lines formed in front of the store, it was always a load off my mind. I was also completely blown away by the first opening in the then new German states, in Dresden, and it still has an effect today - such a great moment!


Can you describe what the first store in Flensburg looked like?
There was no such concept as we had in 1971. At that time, there were mainly owner-operated stores with fashion for the whole family, like our competitors at the time, such as Modehaus Thomsen. We Jeansers were nothing short of revolutionary. 
We opened our first store in a former coal shop when this business moved to the outskirts of the city and the street became a pedestrian zone. It was simply called "Jeans Shop Number One" and we sold nothing but jeans in 20 square meters. The store design was blue and yellow with a western style interior. The floor was a natural coconut fiber floor - we were already sustainable back then ;-) We did not have an inventory control system as we know it today at that time. The cash register had a rotary crank, and the daily sales were kept by tally sheet. That was how it was on November 23, 1971, when we opened.
We then branched out from Flensburg. I would like to take this opportunity to praise the female employees of the time - they were almost all fashion-loving girls, and 50 years ago we were already progressive in this respect. And we had a flat hierarchy. With the others, the bosses were the ones in the dark blue suits. We all wore the same clothes. Everyone was full of joy and enthusiasm! At that time, by the way, everyone was still responsible for everything, from receiving the mountains of parcels to the presentation of goods and sales. Even the inventory was still done by hand at that time. It was not until the 1980s that merchandise management was supported by EDP. When Friedrich joined us, he was ahead of the times with his fashion and business sense. He also already had a proper education in textile retailing. At that time, it was common to rely on the prices calculated by the manufacturer. We then started to cut out the bums and calculate the racers properly. The question since then has been, "What is the customer willing to pay?" We were also one of the first to sort of introduce the "sale"; after all, this type of sale didn't exist before. With that, reducing in time and setting the margins, we had a clear competitive advantage.

The second store was then located in a former lottery outlet on 50 square meters, and the third store in Itzehoe, in the Holstein-Center shopping center. By then we had 100 square meters, and I remember the booths were swinging doors like in a Western saloon. After ten stores in Schleswig-Holstein, Braunschweig followed. With Friedrich and his ability to anticipate fashion trends and buy accordingly, it was a big step forward for our company. Then, in Braunschweig, a new store design began - away from blue and yellow as the color, the stores now featured more wood, more black and carpet on the floor. The stores became more valuable. Moreover, the NEW YORKER logo was emblazoned on all stores from then on. The assortment was also expanded to include new themes; we wanted to move away from being just a jeans store to a young lifestyle provider with fashion, underwear and accessories such as handbags or shoes. 

More and more locations were opened throughout Germany. So, step by step, we approached branching out. It was now all the more crucial to have the right article, at the right time, in the right quantity in the store. Our competitors at the time included Jean Pascale and Hennes und Mauritz. With them, you could see how international purchasing, IT-supported merchandise management and site development were handled.

If someone had asked you 50 years ago where you saw NEW YORKER in 50 years, what would you have answered?
I didn't think for a second about such a distant time in the future; I always thought about the next day, the next store, the next season. After one opening came the next, after the summer season came the fall and the winter. It was always about the challenges of the next moment. Since the know-how to manage a nationwide merchandise management system didn't yet exist, the big questions at the time were: How do we plan ahead and how do we get the merchandise in?
For the first ten years, we were a regional company and had to compete against many long-established and owner-managed retailers. We were successful with our concept and our innovations, but it was impossible to foresee. For example, it was unthinkable to rename a store, but we did it anyway. At that time we had relatively little money in our pockets, but a high business risk.


What do you wish NEW YORKER for its fiftieth anniversary?
Continue to keep the NEW YORKER spirit alive. Continue to adapt to challenges. Continue to be proud of having great employees who carry the company. And to grow healthily!