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Is White Stuff on the right track?

With a new chief executive, the lifestyle retailer is looking to shake things up. But, asks Catherine Neilan, is it on the right track?

White Stuff has recruited its new chief executive – the first for nine years – from outside the fashion industry.Jeremy Seigal joins from AW Watson, the company that owns Superdrug and The Perfume Shop – a far cry from the lifestyle business at White Stuff.

But chairman Debbie Hewitt has savvy reasons for bringing him on.

Rather than be bogged down in the design, Seigal has been brought in as a pure strategy man, a fixer after last year’s less than stellar results.

Hewitt tells me that he impressed her and the rest of the team with his background in listening to customer demands and shaping his businesses around that, particularly at The Perfume Shop, which as she notes grew from a challenger brand to a solid player in its market place as a result.

She also admits that this is where White Stuff has been falling behind, and sensibly is not looking to make any predictions about the outcome of some extensive customer research the retailer is undergoing to set it on the right track.

So what are some of the things they should consider?

Any business not properly on their way to becoming a multichannel retailer needs to have a good think. Some, like Primark, are making it work by virtue of their extensive – and expensive – bricks and mortar portfolio. But not everyone can do that, and arguably eventually even the naysayers will have to get involved to keep moving.

White Stuff has identified this as a likely area for change, but there are certain to be others.  Critically, even the designs need to be considered – are they fresh enough, have they moved on sufficiently to keep long-standing customers coming back for more, while enticing new shoppers to part with their cash? As we have seen with the likes of All Saints, even businesses where the design is the differentiator, it must be evolved.

Hewitt has also admitted that the retailer may have suffered from a lack of brand awareness, so it could well be that a tighter marketing message and some well-positioned advertising will bring in those who may have in the past just walked past the store.

Only the customer research will tell them what needs to be done, and it’s refreshingly honest to hear a business leader keep an open mind until the results are in.

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