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Close-Up Preview: Q&A with Allan Winstanley, executive director of womenswear at House of Fraser

Drapers gives you an exclusive sneak peek of our Close-Up interview with Allan Winstanley, executive director of womenswear at House of Fraser, ahead of the full interview in this weekend’s edition.

Some within the industry feel that House of Fraser has become less distinct as a destination – how are looking to address that?

The one thing I immediately picked up [when I started 10 months ago as executive director of womenswear], and that you have picked up, is that we have huge overlap with John Lewis and with Debenhams, and to a certain degree with Selfridges. So we do need to give ourselves a point of difference, a reason for women to come here. We need to build a reputation as being first to market with new brands and products. I’ve challenged the external branded teams to come up with something new and I think that will be very clear by this autumn.

Since starting, you’ve changed the way you create customer profiles. Can you talk me through the new way of thinking?

When I came in I threw out the old way of working – it’s not about age, that is old-fashioned stuff. It’s about the attitude to dressing, so we’ve come up with a handful of profiles that are about the brands as well as the customers and from the autumn we will start building the shop floors around what she’s looking for, so if she’s looking for casual lifestyle brands they will all sit together – she won’t have to go up three floors to find the one look.

What other new approaches have you adopted since taking on the womenswear role?

In our quest for new brands, I decided we should look at all the regions of world that haven’t had a recession, ones that the rest of the high street don’t go to check out. We honed it down to Australia and Brazil, and we ended up going to Sao Paolo and Rio to check out the retail scene. It was absolutely amazing – because imports are heavily taxed, but there is an emerging economy, the retail scene is very insular but exciting. The womenswear and accessories offers are fantastic, the retailers are very sophisticated. The brands aren’t quite ready to bring here yet, but they will significantly influence our house brand collections for next spring.  

Online sales now make up 20% of the womenswear total – are you concerned about reaching a tipping point where bricks and mortar starts to become a burden?

There is some cannibalisation naturally, but the initiatives we have put in place, like Buy and Collect, have really made sure we have a strong multichannel approach. Now, 35% of our online orders are through Buy & Collect, and of course they are picking up from the middle of the womenswear floor, so that traffic comes back into the store and they end up buying more overall. In fact, multichannel customers spend three times more than single channel customers, whichever channel they use.

You are trying to move away from heavy discounting but some of your competitors are well known for running near-constant Sales. Do you think it will be tough to break the cycle in this market?

What I do know is that if we keep doing what we’ve done before we’ll never break it. There’s that saying – if you always do what you’ve done, you’ll always get what you’ve got. But I know from working on the menswear business that it can be done – that cycle was broken a long time ago ad you don’t see that kind of promotional activity on that side of the business now.

How do you see the House of Fraser shopper?

Our girls are dressed up – lots of colour, lots of energy. Our core age bracket is 40-55 but it really isn’t about age – if she’s 70 and a regular customer with us, she’s not buying old lady’s clothes, she wants to look smart and fashionable, within reason. She’s not trying to look like a teenager but she wants to be stylish and that’s how they expect us to be: stylish, and relevant.

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