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Jack Wills posts rise in sales and profit over Christmas

Jack Wills has reported an increase in its sales and profit over the Christmas trading period, The Times report said. The report added that the company, now managed by Co-founder Peter Williams posted like-for-like sales growth of 1 percent during December, while its profit margin improved by 6 percent compared with the same period in 2015.

According to The Times, Williams, while commenting on the company’s performance, said that positive trading was helped by the introduction of a women’s sportswear range, designed to capitalise on the “athleisure” trend — sports and yoga clothes that are fashionable to be worn outside the gym. And while official launch of its sportswear line happened this month, Williams added that Jack Wills had quietly introduced some products in its stores in mid-December.

Williams acquired Jack Wills from Inflexion Private Equity, by partnering with the private equity owner of London’s Liberty department store, Bluegem Capital Partners, in October. He expects the company to bounce back through an outsourced warehouse that contributed to a 15.1 million pounds (18.8 million dollars) pre-tax loss in the year to January 2016, says the report.

Picture:Jack Wills

Fortnum & Mason and Primark parent company give millions to charity

Wittington Investments, the parent company of retail brands including high end department store Fortnum & Mason, Heal’s and Primark gave millions of pounds to good causes last year thanks to record dividend payouts.

According to the Mail on Sunday, their company accounts filed show pre-tax profits of 1.1 billion pounds in the year year to September 17, 2016, up from 727 million pounds the previous year. Sales were 13.6 million pounds, up from 12.9 million pounds.

Wittington Investments is an investment arm of the Weston family, paying out 109 million pounds to charities. Just under 80 per cent will go to The Garfield Weston Foundation which supports around 1,500 causes in health, education, youth and the environment, including the Salvation Army, Bletchley Park Trust and Demelza children’s hospice.

Wittington Investments is owned by the Garfield Weston Foundation (9.8 percent) which is one of the UK's largest grant-making trusts, set up by the eponymous Canadian billionaire. It is 20.8 percent owned by members of one of Canada's wealthiest families, the Weston family.

Photo credit: Fortnum & Mason, source: Wikimedia Commons

Brexit to continue boosting tourist spend in the UK throughout 2017

London - The devaluation of the pound following the Brexit vote last year may have shaken many, but it did have one positive effect - an influx in tourists and visitor spend. The latest data from tax free shopping service Global Blue, indicates tourist spend soared 14 percent in 2016 in comparison 2015.

Retailers across the country continue to reap the benefits of increased foreign spend, which is projected to continue into 2017. During the last month of 2016 tourist spend grew 23 percent year on year, as shoppers from Asia and North America in particular flocked to the UK to take advantage of favourable exchange rates and splurge on British luxury goods.

International visitors flock to the UK following the drop in the pound

Chinese consumers, who continue to account for the biggest group of international tourist spend in the UK, spent 46 percent more in December 2016 compared to the same period a year ago, whereas Americans, the second biggest spending nation, increase their spend by 77 percent in the same period. However visitors from Taiwan, who may only account for 1 percent of total international tax free spend in the UK, spent 177 percent more last month than in December 2015.

The stellar demand from overseas tourists during the festive season undoubtedly help luxury retailers such as Burberry achieved better than expected quarterly sales. The luxury fashion house revealed a 40 percent increase in its comparable UK sales in the three months to the end of December, an "exceptional performance" according to the company. "We know that favourable exchange rates are attracting international customers to the UK and Britain’s luxury offering will continue to entice foreign shoppers and influence their travel decisions for 2017," commented Michael Ward, Executive Chairman, Walpole and Managing Director, Harrods.

Brexit to continue boosting tourist spend in the UK throughout 2017

On average, international shoppers' spend grew 11 percent during 2016, compared to 2015. Middle Eastern nations continued to spend the most per transaction on average, with Qatari shoppers spending 1,695 pounds on average per transaction, reports Global Blue. Visitors from Saudi Arabia recorded the second highest average of 1,049 pounds, followed by Thailand, spending 1,023 pounds per average transaction in 2016.

The weakening of the pound has effectively lowered the barriers for many overseas visitors who are keen to visit London and shop, but were previously unable to due to currency exchanges."The weakened pound has extended the opportunity to a wider group of travelers who have made the most of the favourable exchange rates allowing them to visit the UK and enjoy our abundance of British shopping and leisure activities at the heart of our culture," commented Gordon Clark, Global Blue Managing Director UK and Ireland.

"This exposure and accessibility has been invaluable and the Brexit vote was undoubtedly a key contributor to the industry’s 2016 growth, but whilst we welcome the immediate boost and exposure, we are yet to understand the decision’s long-term implications."In spite of this, Global Blue predicts the boost in tourist spend in the UK to continue booming over the year, as VisitBritain, the UK's official tourist firm predicts international visitor numbers to increase 4 percent to 38.1 million.

"These figures align with our 2017 forecast of further growth for retail tourism; driven by the UK’s increased exposure in 2016 and the continued devaluation of the pound, until the implications of Brexit are made clear," added Clark.

Photo 1: By aurélien. [CC BY-SA 2.0 ( http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo 2: By Diliff (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL ( http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

Exclusive: Woolrich plans future IPO on the Milan Stock Exchange

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEWFlorence - Woolrich International’s new strategy is coming into effect step by step, just a month and half after Woolrich Inc. and Woolrich Europe announced their merger into new holding company. At the end of November, Woolrich Inc., a “Made in the USA” outdoor apparel company, and Woolrich Europe, a subsidiary of the Bolognese Group W.P. Lavori in Corso, the licensee for the brand for Europe and Asia, announced the completion of a merger which included the formation of a new holding company, Woolrich International. At the same time, the companies put in place a strategic plan which included the launch of an initial public offering (IPO) within the next 3 to 5 years; increasing its store numbers from 25 to 60; a further push into e-commerce; and boosting its employee count to 500.

In addition the company is also expanding its product offering, and at Italian fashion trade fair, the group debuted its first collection of footwear for men and women, characterised by two soles made exclusively for Woolrich by Vibram. As the company continues to map out its plan for the future, FashionUnited took a moment to speak to Cristina Calori, Chairman of Woolrich International, to learn more about what the company aims to do next.

FashionUnited: An IPO is very high up on your agenda. Can you tell us which stock market you have in mind for the listing?

Cristina Calori: “I believe that Milan will be the financial centre that we will choose and that it is the most suitable one in terms of scale. On the American stock market there are some enormous companies quoted with very big turnover.” (Woolrich International has its registered office in London and business offices in New York, Woolrich Pennsylvania, Bologna and Milan).

The way things are going this year, what will you end with in terms of sales, and what is the sales target that you have set yourselves?

“We envisage closing the 2016 financial year with sales of 170 million euros (144 million in 2015). By 2020 we aim to achieve a turnover of 266 million euros.”

Exclusive: Woolrich plans future IPO on the Milan Stock Exchange

These are ambitious targets that have also required restructuring at a managerial level, aren’t they?

“Yes, definitely. We have appointed a Managing Director, who is also a lawyer, who has supported us in our operations since the end of November and who therefore knows our situation very well. On the creative front too we have appointed a new leader, who will monitor the brand through the 360 degree change: Andrea Canè, the Global Creative Director of Woolrich International.”

Given that you are present in both Europe and the USA and in a total of 45 countries, are you thinking of diversifying the collections for your global audience?

“Let’s say that we are in a phase of studying and analyzing various markets, so we would not exclude the possibility of producing ad hoc collections for specific markets. Our strong point (W.P. Lavori in Corso has been a partner of Woolrich since 1984) has always been our capacity to support the client, to see him as a partner, as my father Giuseppe loved to say, and it was with him that I founded W.P. Lavori in Corso in 1982, and not as a rival. Woolrich’s mission is to become a brand leader in outerwear at a global level.”

Which are the markets you are targeting and what is your strategy?

“The United States and Canada first of all, but also the UK and France. We are thinking of subsequent expansion and global development of the Woolrich line John Rich & Bros., which operates in the outerwear segment, thanks to significant investment in marketing, expansion of the direct sales network (single-brand shops and shop-in-shop), growth of the e-commerce channel and the development of new partnerships with approved retail chains. We are also working on the relaunch of the Woolrich Outdoor line with a new global development plan and a development plan for the Chinese region via the setup of a dedicated company. Also on our agenda is the strengthening and development of the potential of the Woollen Mill (Woolrich PA), one of the oldest American woollen mills still operating.”

Exclusive: Woolrich plans future IPO on the Milan Stock Exchange

How important is e-commerce today?

“Of course it’s very important, especially in the USA, where people are used to buying online and they have already started deserting physical shops. Viewed in percentage terms of total turnover, e-commerce accounts for 10 percent and next year it will increase by several points.”

Are you also thinking of a digital strategy at a global level?

“Yes, of course, we are also targeting web marketing because the online channel is very important, as is the integration of the channels. Nevertheless, we believe that retail will be indispensable because the client must be able to touch the product, which is why we are planning to also open single-brand outlets in the USA.”

A growth plan which will also entail expanding the workforce up to 500 people. What professionals will you take on?

”Staff for retail and also for marketing. I have to say that we are investing a lot in the young people in the company. Who better than them to interpret the needs, requirements and wishes of their peers? And we have various talented young people in our creative team.”

​Photos: Courtesy of Woolrich International press office

Alibaba's Ma makes star turn as Davos pivots to China

President Xi Jinping wowed the audience in Davos with his exaltation of globalisation, but China's real "Davos Man" may be the omnipresent and deal-hungry founder of Alibaba, Jack Ma.

From his ties to US president-elect Donald Trump and his appetite for Hollywood cinema to a new partnership with the Olympic Games, Ma was everywhere at the World Economic Forum, the yearly chat-fest for the world's most powerful leaders and executives.

Ma's star turn -- and another in Davos by Xi, who extolled globalisation ​ ​ and denounced protectionism -- came as US tycoons jetted back to Washington in ​ ​ time for the inauguration Friday of the unabashedly populist Trump. ​ ​ "He is very open-minded," Ma said of the Republican property developer at ​ ​ one of several Q&A sessions he headlined over the four-day Davos forum, which ​ ​ ends shortly after Trump's investiture. ​

​ Ma is one of the few business leaders to have made it up the golden ​ ​ elevator at Trump Tower in New York. ​ I​ n a meeting earlier this month, Ma told Trump his online trading company ​ ​ could help deliver a million jobs to the US, a bold commitment the Chinese ​ ​ businessman staunchly defended in Davos. ​

​ "I'm not talking to a normal person, I'm talking to the president-elect ​ ​ about the creation of jobs... This couldn't be a joke," he said. ​ C​ hummier relations with the US will be a priority for Ma. In December, ​ ​ Washington put a division of Alibaba back on a blacklist of "notorious ​ ​ markets" known for selling counterfeit goods and violating intellectual ​ ​ property rights. ​

​ "Things like fake products, counterfeit, we've been fighting for 17 years, ​ ​ since the day we set up," Ma said. ​ ​ "We have 2,000 people devoted to the problem, the largest ​ ​ counterfeit-fighting team in the world." ​

​ ​

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​ 'Die on the beaches' ​

​ ​

​ Quick with a smile or jokey quip, the former English teacher was at ease ​ ​ before the elites gathered in Davos. ​ ​ "My favourite movie, 'Forrest Gump': you know, life's tough, this is what I've learned, and that inspired me," Ma said at another session that delved ​ ​ into his love for Hollywood. ​

​ "That is why when people call me crazy, stupid for the past 17 years... I ​ ​ told myself, Forrest Gump said go ahead. Never care about the other people." ​ ​ Ma's rags-to-riches history is atypical in Davos, where many attendees are ​ ​ top executives who rode a seamless track from exclusive schools to senior jobs ​ ​ at multinational companies. ​

They have given rise to the caricature of "Davos ​ ​ Man", a rich, rootless tourist of international conference venues. ​ ​ Seventeen years ago, after an inspirational visit to the United States, Ma persuaded friends to back him with 60,000 ​ dollars​ to start an e-commerce firm called Alibaba. ​

​ Now, the company is an Internet giant and Ma is among the topmost ranks of ​ ​ China's super-rich. Then again, he believes that life should not be all work. ​ ​ "The world is so wonderful. Why should I be the CEO of Alibaba all the ​ ​ time?" Ma said, goading the Davos audience of highly paid workaholics. ​

​ "I don't want to die in my office. I want to die on the beaches," he said. ​ ​ But Ma is also an avid deal-maker and his visit to Davos was not all ​ ​ glad-handing and photo ops. ​ ​ On Thursday he announced a partnership with the International Olympic ​ ​ Committee to give the organisers of the Olympic Games a digital overhaul. ​

​ This month he took control of Chinese malls operator Intime in a 2.6 ​ ​ billion deal. Last year, his company bought a stake in Steven Spielberg's ​ ​ Hollywood studio. ​ ​ In Davos, Ma said he was eager to explore more Hollywood investment. ​

​ "We believe Hollywood, the movie industry, brings people happiness. Because ​ ​ today, nobody's happy," he said ​.​ Ma is careful to steer clear of China's communist politics, but did suggest the US might have avoided the anti-globalisation backlash if it had spent less ​ ​ on foreign wars and more on helping the average Joe at home. ​

​ "What if they had spent part of that money on building up the ​ ​ infrastructure, helping the white-collars and the blue-collars?" he said​ ​. (AFP)

​ Photo: Courtesy of the Alibaba Group

Ann Summers Christmas sales jump 17.2 percent

Sales at Ann Summers during the holiday season increased 17.2 percent backed by a celebrity campaign and online push, said a Retail Gazette report. Online sales at the lingerie and sex toys chain jumped 54 per cent during the period under review.

The company said, event Ann Summers’ in-store retail portfolio witnessed a 12.5 percent rise in sales. According to the report, Ann Summer’s celebrity campaign helped drive the late male “guy buy” Christmas shoppers coupled with enhanced online delivery options, that let the consumers pick up things online even during the days leading up to Christmas.

With a wide selection of product range, the company also posted a strong wholesale growth of 72 percent with Asos and House of Fraser. With positive first half, the company foresees a profitable year of growth ahead.

Image: Ann Summers

Bonmarché delivers 3.3 percent rise in quarterly sales

Bonmarché, for the 13 weeks period ended December 24, 2016 reported sales increase of 3.3 percent against the corresponding period in FY16, and store like for like sales increased by 0.8 percent. Sales for the 39 weeks decreased by 1.3 percent and store like for like sales decreased by 5.3 percent.

Commenting on the update, Helen Connolly, CEO of Bonmarché, said,"Given the backdrop of the current trading environment, our third quarter store sales were satisfactory, particularly in light of the business still being in the early stages of its turnaround. The online performance was poor, and this continues to be a key area of focus.”

The company said, a less promotional stance was taken throughout the quarter and whilst this impacted overall sales volumes it resulted in stronger gross margin performance, with product gross margin in the quarter 2.2 percent higher than in last year's corresponding period. As at December 24, 2016, Bonmarché traded from 327 stores and online platform.

The company expects the Group's full-year pre-exceptional PBT to fall within a range between 5 million pounds (6 million dollars) and 7 million pounds (8.6 million dollars).

Picture:Bonmarché

Swiss watchmakers call time on 2 years of crisis

Luxury Swiss watchmakers, gathering this week at the industry's premier annual show in Geneva, hope 2017 will finally mark the end of two crisis-hit years of falling sales.

Many top-flight brands, used to running their ateliers at full throttle, have resorted to laying off workers in the face of crumbling demand. "2016 has been difficult," Jean-Daniel Pasche, president of the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry, told AFP during the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH), which runs through January 20.

He said he expected this year's exports of luxury watches to be "about the same level" as those of last year. Exports for all of 2016 will be published next week, but from January to November, they were down 10.4 percent from the same period last year, after a 3.3 percent decline in 2015.

"We're near the end, I think, of what has been a structural crisis," said Manuel Emch, chief executive of the luxury brand Romain Jerome. "We're seeing a recovery in China, and the haemorrhage has stopped in certain markets," he added, referring in particular to Hong Kong, the largest export market for Swiss watchmakers.

Swiss watchmakers call time on 2 years of crisis

Robust Chinese demand had led many brands to expand production. However, a crackdown by Beijing on corruption in 2013 hit hard, as has political uncertainty in Hong Kong following the "umbrella revolution" in 2014. Hong Kong had long attracted Chinese watch fans on the mainland.

Among the other factors weighing on the sector were the collapse of the ruble, which has crimped the buying power of Russian clients, and rising competition from "smart" watches connected to the internet. "All these factors at the same time, plus the terror attacks in Europe ... that was quite a lot," Emch said.

'Fragile' outlook

Steps taken by Swiss brands over the past two years to curb output should start to pay off, Emch said, but "the equation is still fragile". Retailers, who struggled to sell their stocks in the face of slumping demand, are now being more selective when choosing which brands to display, focusing on sure bets at the expense of small, niche players.

Last year, Richemont, the world's second-largest watchmaker, whose brands include Cartier, Piaget and IWC, spent heavily to buy back stock from Asian retailers. On Friday, the group surprised investors by reporting a five percent increase in third-quarter sales in local currency terms, suggesting that its efforts were beginning to bear fruit as the Chinese market gradually recovers.

"I think they've probably cleared out most of the inventory and they can now start to restock, including with lower price point models," said Jon Cox, an analyst with Kepler Cheuvreux. As expected, several brands are presenting more sober designs at SIHH this year, often using more affordable materials.

Parmigiani Fleurier, for example, is proposing a stainless-steel version of its classic Tonda 1950, priced at 8,950 euros (9,500 dollars), compared with 15,700 euros for the version in white gold. It is also presenting an updated version of the Toric, its most emblematic watch.

"Right now, we're going back to our basics, with emblematic pieces," said Michel Parmigiani, the brand's founder. (AFP)

Photos: Courtesy of SIHH

Alibaba announces digital partnership with the International Olympic Committee

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Alibaba founder Jack Ma announced on Thursday a partnership in which the organisers of the Olympic Games will rely on the Chinese e-commerce titan for a digital upgrade.

The partnership was announced at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, by Ma and IOC President Thomas Bach, who said the plan would give the Olympics a more modern face that would carry the IOC "into the digital age".

"This is to engage better with a younger generation... (by) using the different digital platforms to motivate young people to play sports," Bach told journalists at the Davos talk-fest.

"We want to get the couch potatoes off the couch," he added. In the deal, Ma's Alibaba will provide digital technology, including cloud computing, to the IOC, which will become better prepared against cyber attacks, a statement said.

Alibaba would also open up its hugely popular shopping website to the IOC to sell officially licensed Olympic products, despite worries worldwide about the massive presence of counterfeits on the company's platforms.

"Alibaba's partnership with the IOC is built on a foundation of shared values and a common vision for connecting the world and enriching people's lives," Ma said. "We are always looking for partners and finding ways to empower them," he added.

Ma dismissed allegations that his company was doing too little to fight counterfeit products. "Anything that happens in the real world, happens in the virtual world. Governing and managing a world like that is not easy," Ma said.

But he added: "We have 2,000 people devoted to the problem, the largest counterfeit-fighting team in the world." (AFP)

Photo: Pexels.com

China's richest man warns Trump against trade war

China's richest man, Hollywood investor Wang Jianlin, warned Donald Trump Wednesday against dragging the entertainment industry into a trade war -- saying his country's millions of movie-lovers are key to the future of cinema.

The Chinese billionaire joined a chorus of concern from international business chiefs gathered at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland this week over the protectionist leanings of the US president-elect, who takes office Friday.

Wang, whose Wanda conglomerate owns a US cinema chain, a Hollywood production company and the firm that runs the Golden Globe awards, said America would be the bigger loser if the entertainment sector fell victim to a trade war.

"The main growth market of English-language films out of the US is actually China, not anywhere else," Wang told an audience in Davos, noting that China had the most movie screens in the world with 15,000 added in the past year alone.

"If China were to retaliate, it would be bad for both parties so I don't wish to see that scenario materialising." Chinese President Xi Jinping has led calls in Davos for an open global economy as Trump prepares to take power, warning Tuesday: "No one will emerge as a winner in a trade war."

Wang said last month that the jobs of his 20,000 US employees would be on the line if the Trump administration mishandled Chinese investment. The 62-year-old acknowledged US political concerns over his acquisitions, which include the 2.6 billion dollars purchase of cinema chain AMC in 2012 and Legendary Entertainment, the company behind the "Batman" trilogy, for 3.5 billion dollars last year.

Several US lawmakers have urged the government to examine the national security implications of such investments in Hollywood, if such Chinese "soft power" is allowed to take root.

China's richest man warns Trump against trade war

'More emotion, fewer superheroes'

As China eyes a growing stake in US movie-making, internet billionaire Jack Ma also expressed an interest in further Hollywood investment Wednesday after his company Alibaba bought a stake in Steven Spielberg's firm last year. "I think we should partner with Hollywood," he said as he too held court at Davos.

Wang, who has been talked of as a potential buyer of Paramount Pictures, reiterated his interest in buying one of the "big six" Hollywood companies. "These six companies are not in a selling mood," he said, adding that if they were, "I would be a happy buyer".

Wang said both China and the US would benefit from more joint movie productions, as these are exempt from Beijing's tight limits on the screening of foreign blockbusters. Only 34 foreign films are allowed cinema releases in China each year, limiting Hollywood studios' ability to cash in on a massive potential audience -- but "there's no limit" on co-productions, Wang pointed out.

Legendary's "The Great Wall", a monster movie starring Matt Damon, has been billed as the first such blockbuster jointly made by China and the US. Damon, in Davos to promote his water charity, told AFP he would work on another Chinese project "in a heartbeat".

"I didn't feel there was any propaganda to it at all," he said of the concerns of some US politicians. "It was a good old-fashioned creature feature with a giant international crew, and that was a cool thing to be a part of."

Given the growing clout of Chinese movie-goers, Wang advised Hollywood studios to start thinking more about the kind of movies his compatriots want to see. "Chinese films tend to talk about emotions, relationships with people," he said.

"If Hollywood wants to take up a large market share, they need to learn to cater to Chinese tastes -- not just these films about superheroes." But Jack Ma said Chinese cinema could learn from American storylines -- notably, how to cheer up.

"In Chinese movies, the hero always (ends up) dead," he complained, to laughter from the Davos crowd. (AFP)

Photo: Courtesy of Alibaba Group