House of Fraser looking to refocus brand offering

House of Fraser is looking to reshape its business in what executive chairman, Frank Slevin is calling a “transformational period” for the department store, which includes dropping between 30-40 womenswear brands including some of its ‘house’ brands as it looks to focus more on its core customer.

Maria Hollins, executive director of product and trading, who joined the retailer last year from Asos, confirmed that House of Fraser is to “streamline” its offering, especially across womenswear, which will include dropping ‘house’ brands Therapy, Dickins and Jones, Gray and Willow and Episode, along with brands targeting younger and older customers, which Hollins said would be exiting on a “store by store basis”.

Hollins wouldn’t confirm which brands or concession would be dropped, just stating that "discussion were currently underway", while adding that 30-40 brands wasn’t a huge number when you take into context that the department store has 677 brands across the whole business.

The reshaping of the womenswear portfolio, which Hollins described as ”eclectic without much consistency” will allow House of Fraser to expand some of its concessions, including Jigsaw and North Face to more of its stores, while giving more space to brands such as Barbour and Mint Velvet.

House of Fraser looking to refocus brand offering

House of Fraser to introduce new ‘house’ brand in August

In addition, Hollins laid out steps to improve the remaining ‘house’ brands, such as Linea, its oldest brand which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, which she said would become more contemporary, offering subtle colour palettes, as well as a full range of accessories to make it a full lifestyle offering. Biba, the retailer’s most successful brand, will see designs featuring quality fabrics such as silk, while LabelLab, its causal brand will be expanded to make it “more exciting”, and its newest brand Maison de Nimes will see its denim offering expanding. These will also be joined by a new label set to launch in August, with further details to be released in the coming months.

“We want fewer but better house brands, cutting back to those with the most potential,” Hollins said. “There was also a lot of duplication. We have focused on getting a clear product, maintaining fit across the ranges, as well as ensuring that the ranges are competitive while not compromising on quality.”

House of Fraser looking to refocus brand offering

Hollins also added that the retailer will be introducing a new “test bed” concept in five stores, which will allow House of Fraser’s customer to discover new brands while adding excitement to the retailer’s offering. The concept will be in a small area of the store in which Hollins described as “simple brand callouts” and the area will be refreshed each season and successful brands could have the opportunity to roll out across other stores.

The department store will also be pushing athleisure into 40 stores, with collections from its own ‘house’ brands, alongside brands including Minkpink, Ted Baker, Seafolly, and Acai Activewear, which the retailer will have the UK exclusive.

The last addition to the store refresh will be the introduction of year-round gifting options, as she said that was becoming an “increasingly important” market and is a “big opportunity” for House of Fraser. Initially, it will include a dedicated space in 20 stores offering beauty, food, men’s, fashion and accessories, which will be refreshed for events such as Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.

The retailer’s online offering if also being reshaped to focus on the department stores core offering of fashion, beauty, lifestyle and home, and the retailer has already dropped 170 brands, which Hollins described as mostly “online only” brands, and from non-core categories such as garden sheds and breathalysers, which she said the site offered nine options.

House of Fraser focusing on core customer in new strategy

The refresh of the brand portfolio in-store and online is part of House of Fraser’s strategy to redefine its brand as ‘premium’, as well as to cater for its identified core customer ‘Jo’, who chief customer officer David Walmsley said the retailer has called her. ‘Jo’ is purpose-driven, who has built her life around her children, partner, parents, job and community is open to “discovering” new things and as her children are perhaps older and she has more time for herself.

“We are designing our business for one customer, Jo” explains Walmsley. “She is a modern woman, who is getting back me-time, and is looking for inspiration.”

This new approach will see the retailer adopting a new marketing strategy which will be more family orientated, not aimed at a younger customer that maybe House of Fraser has focused on with its adverts in recent years. The marketing will feature billboards around key stores and catchment areas in what Walmsley described as “micro local,” while adding that they will be brand focused and not just around sales.

Slevin added: “Our vision is evolving, we need to be more innovative in the way we move forward, but we are energetic in pursuing that change.”

Images: courtesy of House of Fraser

Is the allure of fast fashion fading?

The gilded growth of fast fashion appears to be losing its shine and momentum, as industry giants H&M and Zara both posted significant drops in sales.

Swedish retailer H&M saw its monthly sales drop for the first time in almost four years, whereas Zara saw its profits dwindle to its lowest in 8 years.

Consumers are spending on experience, not apparel

Last week the US annual census report stated consumer were spending their cash on things to do, not things to wear. The repercussions for the fashion industry are seeing consumers opt for more lifestyle and leisure activities over apparel.

According to Bloomberg, H&M shares fell as much as 5.1 percent in Stockholm, the most in three months. A one percent drop in February sales was caused by the month having one day fewer than in the leap year of 2016. Adjusting for that, revenue rose 3 percent in local currencies, missing estimates.

Zara's parent company Inditex's gross margin narrowed to 57 percent from 57.8 percent in the 12 months through January, noted Bloomberg, missing the Spanish retailer's goal to keep the measure within 0.5 percentage points of the previous year.

The shares fell as much as 2.7 percent, the most since December, though pared their losses after Chief Executive Officer Pablo Isla said that at current exchange rates, the gross margin won't fall this year.

Inditex will continue to open flagships in the world's key retail destination. It's strategy is to absorb smaller units into adjacent stores. New openings are slated for Nagoya in Japan, as well as Qatar and Mumbai. There are also plans in the works for Zara to open its largest retail unit in its home country, a 65,000 square feet space in Madrid.

Photo: Lefties SS17 campaign

Luxury fine jewellery brand Buccellati has launched on Net-a-Porter, marking the first time the Italian jewellery has been sold via a luxury online retailer, aside from their own standalone stores and own brand e-commerce site.

Net-a-Porter has launched 22 styles from Buccellati’s ‘Macri’, ‘Hawaii’ and ‘Rombi’ collections, which includes an assortment of rings, earrings, necklaces and bracelets in 18 karat yellow, white and rose gold variations, with and without diamonds, ranging in price from 5,000 to 100,000 pounds.

“Founded in 1919, it is an iconic fine jewellery brand with such rich heritage. The ‘Macri’, ‘Hawaii’ and ‘Rombi’ collections all perfectly showcase the incredible detail and skill of the Buccellati Atelier in Milan,” explains Sophie Quy, buyer for fine jewellery at Net-a-Porter. “Each piece displays the most exquisite craftsmanship and quality, which we know our global customers will love.”

Buccellati president and creative director, Andrea Buccellati added: “It is a wonderful new partnership between tradition and contemporary style, combining our unrivalled heritage and craftsmanship with a pioneering platform for luxury brands.

“We are proud to expand our presence with such an influential global e-tailer and present our iconic collections, that we are sure will thrill all Net-a-Porter customers around the world.”

& Other Stories, sister brand of H&M, has moved into new territory. The lifestyle brand just announced its first ever Asian flagship located in Seoul, South Korea.

& Other Stories announced that the company would reach Asia eventually in Apgujeong. The newly opened store spans approximately 7,100 square feet located in Seoul’s luxury shopping district. The location has three floors including a white exterior with a minimalist aesthetic. Because of Seoul’s fashion influence in South Korea, the city was a clear choice for the brand for a launch in the country. “When we started to look at potential openings and expansion, we felt that Korean women had such amazing style and are so fashion savvy,” public relations manager of & Other Stories Elke Kieft told WWD.

Although similar to H&M, the brand varies in style as well as in price points. With elevated prices and a more sophisticated style, the company ranges up to approximately 373 dollars compared to H&M’s lower-fared prices. The company currently has stores located in Los Angeles, Costa Mesa, Washington D.C., and New York. Worldwide, the country operates stores in Denmark, Finland, France, Germany and more. While & Other Stories continues to grow, it’ll be interesting to see if the company moves forward with more Asia flagships.

Brexit and storm Doris affect retail sales

The uncertainties of Brexit and storm Doris, which hit the UK at the end of last month, appeared to have a negative impact on retail sales in February.

According to a recent survey released by Reuters, February saw the UK's worst result in terms of sales since 2009.

In its monthly report High Street Sales Tracker, the accounting firm BDO announced a slowdown in sales 2.2 percent last month compared to the same period last year (which already had shown a 1.7 percent decline).

This is the third consecutive month decline, of which the fashion sector is suffering the greatest.

According to BDO'S data, sales of fashion decreased by 3.4 percent, the most critical outcome in terms of performance since September 2016. E-commerce, despite showing robust sales, decreased by 19.9 percent.

Photo credit: Storm Doris, source: Met Office, gov.uk

Only 40 percent of UK shoppers think their favourite retailers provide a good or great customer experience and accurately anticipate their needs, according to new research commissioned by data-driven marketing technology company Zeta Global.

The survey of more than 3,000 consumers by Sapio Research about their shopping preferences and experiences found that nearly half (48 percent) of respondents considered their retail experience to be “merely average”, while a further 11 percent believe that their favourite shops provide poor service, meaning that they have to shop around as a result.

In addition, the data reveals that 81 percent of UK consumers said they are more likely to go on to buy if a store recognises them as a previous customer and offers relevant discounts, while two-fifths of shoppers would be less inclined to shop around if they received a personalised service, and 63 percent of UK shoppers have bought items as a direct result of a communication from a retailer.

However, the research also notes that customers have high service expectations of retailers and 87 percent of those polled expect an answer back within 24 hours from a store following a complaint.

Jill Brittlebank, senior director, strategy and analytics of Zeta Global said: “Clearly, retailers continue to face challenges in being able to acknowledge their customers and understand how they interact with the brand – online, in a physical location, or when they interact through social media. Retailers need to be able to spot these interactions and acknowledge quickly, or there is a real risk that time-pressured and demanding UK shoppers will take their customer to retailers that can.

“This research highlights just how critical it has become for stores to understand their customers, and put this knowledge systematically to work throughout their organisations to enhance customer service, experience, and engagement. If this doesn’t happen, they will lose ground to competitors.”

Despite an industry lobbying for a relief of Business Rates, the UK government is clashing with retailer on another front, by introducing a digital tax on internet sales.

Chancellor Philip Hammond in his Budget speech last week, proposed retailers pay a digital levy, including e-commerce giants Amazon, in a bid to help revive the high street.

Amazon, for example, pays a slim fraction of the rates of high street-based groups. Amazon will see the total business rates bill for its nine main distribution centres in England and Wales cut by 148,000 pounds to 11.3 million pounds a year, despite posting annual sales in excess of 6 billion pounds.

But it is the small companies who will suffer the most. Entrepreneurs, emerging brands, new boutiques and online startups will have had to deal with the doubling of insurance premium tax, automatic pension enrolment, the extra cost of the living wage, the infrastructure levy, the revaluation of business rates and now the “making tax digital” plan, said the Daily Telegraph.

Other online groups, including Asos, AO and Shop Direct, which owns Very, have all seen bills drop by 2 per cent on their warehouses. The cut is paid for by increases in areas where property values have soared to keep the overall total the same.

According to Bloomberg, changes to the tax system could be introduced at the autumn budget, which will become the chancellor’s main fiscal event of the year. The UK's outdated model of business rates taxomeans bricks and mortar business pay the majority, despite online sales accounting for over 12 percent of all retail sales in the U.K., the highest proportion globally, according to Mintel.

LK Bennett opens debut store in Moscow, Russia

London - British fashion retailer LK Bennett is set to officially open its debut store in Moscow, Russia later this week as part of its wider international expansion plans. Located on the 1st floor of the Metropolis Mall in Moscow, the debut store opening sees the premium British womenswear retailer joining the likes of Karen Millen, DKNY and Michael Kors in offering its products to affluent Russian consumers. LK Bennett previously teamed up with Russian fashion firm Easy Fashion Group for its foray into Russia, silently opening its store in August.

LK Bennett’s Russian debut follows on from a 2 million pound injection the fashion label received from its private equity backers in support of its international push into Russia and other markets, including China, where LK Bennett shoes concessions has been trading "very strongly." In addition to its debut in Russia, which was first announced last May, LK Bennett is set to open two new stores in mainland China, according to a report in the Telegraph.

LK Bennett opens debut store in Moscow, Russia

LK Bennett opens debut store in Moscow Metropolis Mall

The recent cash boost from its backers, private equity firms Phoenix Equity Partners and Sirius Equity, who have own the premium womenswear retailer for the past ten years, has lead to recent buzz that LK Bennett could be headed a potential sale. If LK Bennett is headed for the UK fashion selling block, it will be in good company as it joining the likes of premium fashion retailer Jaeger and Aquascutum, with the latter recently being acquired by Jining Ruyi Investment for 95 million pounds.

But sources maintain that both backers are dedicated to remaining onboard and supporting LK Bennett's international expansion plans, which also included the opening of another store in New York, US, located at the new World Trade Centre last August. At the moment approximately 25 percent of LK Bennett's sales stem from its international presence, a percentage the premium fashion retailer is eager to boost and places it in favoured positioned in comparison to other British fashion retailers who will have to grapple with increasing import costs from the weaker sterling.

LK Bennett opens debut store in Moscow, Russia

The string of international stores openings is currently being overseen by LK Bennett's new Chief Executive Officer, former BHS boss Darren Topp. He was brought on board last September, together with Michael Hitchcock, an ex-BHS financial consultant, to strengthen and speed up the brand's international growth. Since their appointment at LK Bennett, the two have overhauled the retailer's senior management team and are set to boost the brand's presence in the UK with a string of new concession stands in John Lewis.

LK Bennett was first founded by Lina Bennett in 1990 in London, who aimed to bring a bit of Bond Street to the high street. In 1998 the retailer expanded its footwear collections with women’s ready to wear and since then the brand favoured by Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, has grown to operate over 130 stores across the globe, with stores across the UK, the US and the Middle East.

FashionUnited has contacted LK Bennett for more information on its debut in Russia.

Photos: LK Bennett SS17-18, Facebook

Gap unveils new concept store at Bluewater

Gap has opened a new concept store at its Bluewater location, which includes a ‘Denim Addict’ personalisation service, marking the first of a new concept design to launch in the UK.

The 10,000 square foot store located on the shopping centre’s lower Rose Gallery, next door to the Misguided store that will open this summer, houses Gap’s women’s, men’s, kids and baby collections, as well as GapFit and Gap Body alongside the brand’s regular apparel and icons.

The new denim customisation service will allow shoppers to personalise their denim with distressing, studs, patches and embroidery. In addition, other products will be able to be embroidered with names and initials.

Gap unveils new concept store at Bluewater

Commenting on the concept store Russell Loveland, portfolio director at Land Securities, co-owner and asset manager of Bluewater, said: “Gap’s decision to open their new concept store for the UK at Bluewater reaffirms its position as Europe’s leading retail and leisure destination.

“Gap’s store, which brings a number of innovations to the guest experience, is part of our strategy to create a select series of statement stores at Bluewater, where the emphasis is on providing something unique.”

The Kent-based shopping centre has more than 300 stores including Marks and Spencer, House of Fraser, John Lewis, H&M, Zara, Anthropologie and Michael Kors.

Images: courtesy of Gap/Bluewater

Marks and Spencer has become the first retailer to share DisabledGo “Access Guides” containing detailed information on its stores’ accessibility for disabled people and carers on its website.

The detailed guides includes information such as lighting levels, to the number of accessible car parking spaces, to the provision of hearing loops, and all the guides are available for customers on the M&S.com Store Locator page.

The guides have been created following a 50-strong team of DisabledGo experts visiting Marks and Spencer stores across the country, where they analysed the stores’ accessibility and took images for the retailers 590 owned stores.

DisabledGo guides are designed to help the UK’s 12 million disabled people with visual impairments, autism, and those in wheelchairs to shop on high streets, in shopping centres and at retail parks, as well as also helping others with access needs, such as parents with prams or those with mobility problems.

Gregory Burke, founder of DisabledGo said: “Marks and Spencer has some of the most accessible shops on the high street, but we know that disabled people don’t always know what this will mean for them when they visit their local store. We already have one million people using our guides and we’re excited that by working with partners like Marks and Spencer we can grow the number of people the guides are helping.

“The spending power of disabled people rose to 249 billion pounds and it’s exciting to see one of the UK’s biggest retailers acknowledge the rise and the power of the purple pound.”

Sacha Berendji, retail director at Marks and Spencer added: “We put the customer at the heart of everything we do and our stores being accessible for everyone is extremely important to us. We have a proud heritage of doing the right thing for our customers and it’s an area we want to continue to lead the market on by listening to our customers and responding to their needs.”