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Retailers’ Sale debate echoes through the years

Next Tuesday, August 6, is an auspicious day for Drapers as it is the 126th anniversary of our appearance.

The Drapers’ Record, A Journal for the Drapery, Outfitting and Upholstery Trades, was conceived and published in London in the summer of 1887. One of the founders the following year started a newspaper called the Financial Times. I wonder what happened to that title…

We are lucky to have an exhaustive archive of the magazine and its various brother titles and rivals, which is held on permanent loan at the London College of Fashion. Reading what issues concerned our Victorian ancestors and their successors over 12 and a half decades is fascinating, not least because most of the hot topics then are still hot topics now. The relationship between retailer and supplier, the importance of finding and keeping good staff, the importance of international trade and - always - what’s selling (and what’s not selling) at what prices are ever-present themes.

It should come as no surprise that the thorny problem of Sales has annoyed, irritated and frustrated readers of this publication since its inception. I can’t recall how many times in my long career retailers and suppliers have urged me to start a campaign to have Sale dates regulated “like they do on the continent”. I have always been sceptical that there are robust laws governing Sales anywhere in Europe, but in any case I am against the principle of government tying up the fashion business in yet more regulations.

The market will decide when Sales should happen.

That said, there is an interesting lesson to be learned from our news report this week that both Next and White Stuff have substantially increased their profits by keeping their discounting periods to a minimum in the first half of the year. Fat Face also cut its discounting to good effect. I salute any retailer who was clever enough, brave enough or well-financed enough to hold off the Sale in June and July, because they must have cleaned up selling summer stock at full whack while the sun beat down.

Unfortunately, the British Retail Consortium’s latest figures on clothing and footwear pricing show yet another decline - price deflation is accelerating faster than in the previous six years. It is understandable that price-cutting is the obvious response when footfall is down and individual consumer spend is reduced, but as the autumn merchandise (ridiculously) starts to arrive in store, wouldn’t it be good if more retailers, large and small, decided not to stick up the Sale banners quite so soon this coming season? Hold your nerve in the short term and increase your profits in the medium to long term.

Finally, I’d like to draw the attention of readers from larger retail businesses to the reworked categories in the Drapers Awards 2013, the full details of which can be found on www.drapersawards.com. I look forward to receiving this year’s entries. Even in these challenging times, there are lots of success stories to celebrate. And Drapers and its predecessor titles have always been ready to salute the best operators in fashion for 126 years.

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