50 years in business
It is difficult to imagine the UK high street without powerhouse Primark. The Dublin-based retailer celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Founder Arthur Ryan – who sadly died after a short illness in July – opened the chain’s first store on the Irish capital’s Mary Street in 1969. Today, it has 372 stores in 12 countries, employing more than 75,000 employees and operating from 15 million sq ft of retail space.
The Primark phenomenon spread rapidly. The retailer launched its first UK store in 1973 and expansion into Europe followed in 2006, starting in Spain and spreading across the Netherlands, Portugal, Germany and Belgium. Primark landed in the US in 2015.
“Primark has been the driving force behind value clothing in the UK, with a winning formula of low prices and fast fashion,” Pippa Stephens, associate retail analyst at GlobalData, explains. “It has been able to react to trends quickly and deliver customers constant newness. A potential challenge the business faces going forward is that there is a lot more competition in the value market, particularly from online pureplays. Primark is continuing to do well, but it is reliant on expansion for growth.”
It has not always been smooth sailing for the retailer. Primark became synonymous with the Bangladesh Rana Plaza disaster, which killed more than 1,100 factory workers in 2013, after it was discovered that one of its third-party suppliers was based in the building.
However, it was also one of the most proactive retailers in the wake of the disaster. It was the first UK retailer to sign up to the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety and created a compensation scheme for victims and their families.
Having transformed customers’ expectations around value, Primark remains something of an industry outlier. It is the only major high street player not to have a transactional website, as the low price of its products means shipping and return costs could erode its margins. Not that it seems to need one – profits jumped by 15% to £843m for the year to 15 September 2018.