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Accountant chair 'gives clue to Arcadia direction'

Industry experts have hailed the appointment of Andrew Coppel as Arcadia’s new chairman as an “excellent” decision, as he brings a “totally fresh pair eyes” to the struggling group.

As the chairman of Arcadia’s holding company, Taveta Investments, and Top Shop Top Man Ltd, Coppel will be responsible for each boards’ “effectiveness and corporate governance, as well as supporting the executive team with the delivery of their turnaround strategy”, the group said.

He joins this week from accountancy firm OH Associates, where he has held the role of managing director since 2015. Coppel is also chairman of property investment company Dolphin Capital Investors, and non-executive director of housebuilder MJ Gleeson.

“This is a very interesting move and I can see it having a benefit on Topshop and Topman, especially if he aims to progress the company more digitally and focus on customer experience,” said one high street merchandising assistant. “I can see it having a huge improvement on that, because it is very much needed.”

He added: “I can also see the group becoming more financially stable. A fresh face will do good.”

One womenswear CEO said it “may well be an excellent appointment to bring someone in with a wide depth of experience outside of retailing but with experience of asset-heavy, consumer businesses. He can approach the group with totally fresh eyes and with no historical emotional attachment.

“I would assume he will review the state of each brand with a view to potentially selling some off – or closing some down. Or creating a clear and unique identity for each. All of the brands within the group are quite different, therefore separating the brands would enable each one to focus on establishing a clear target audience and adapt to the needs of that audience.”

Retail analyst Mark Pilkington agreed that Coppel could have been brought in to oversee the break-up of the group: “The appointment of Andrew Coppel – a financial/property specialist – as the new chairman of Arcadia gives a clue as to where Philip Green’s thoughts are headed in the wake of the recent company voluntary arrangement.

“Arcadia remains heavily in debt, and its accountant, PWC, has noted worries in its most recent accounts as to its ability to continue as a going concern. The £310m mortgage on its flagship store, Topshop Oxford Street, which is due for repayment before Christmas, is a particular issue.

“Under these circumstances, Green is likely to be looking to sell off parts of the group, to raise cash to stay afloat. As the best-known brand in the group, Topshop is probably the most saleable.”

He added: “Coppel’s appointment may be part of this process, as his accounting and property expertise will be helpful in getting the best value from the Topshop/Topman asset portfolio. As such, his role may be to oversee the break-up of the group, as opposed to leading any growth strategy.”

However, several industry experts said if Coppel has been brought in to help grow the company, he will need to focus on product and the state of stores across the group.

The womenswear CEO said: “I imagine he will firstly listen carefully to the various directors and then work with them to start to make changes quickly. The difficult part may well be getting Philip Green to agree – and potentially put more money in.

“So many stores look tired and unloved. They have fallen behind with technology and customer service is woeful. There are so many issues to be addressed to make the group fit for the future, that ensuring he has the right team around him will be key to being successful. And more money will be required.”

Elizabeth Stiles, fashion consultant and former assistant buyer at Miss Selfridge, said: ”Topshop specifically are getting more expensive but their product design, quality and innovation doesn’t reflect their pricing. I’d also say their store experience is lacking somewhat compared to their competitors who are modernising with technology.”

However, a former Topshop/Topman employee is concerned the product quality will fall further down the priority list: “[Coppel comes] from an accounting background. I feel like its biggest problem, which in my opinion is product, will be even more disregarded. Product has seen a huge dip in design and quality.

“Topshop and Topman used to be at the forefront of high street fashion, but retailers that weren’t ever close to competing with them are now doing as well, if not better. They need to switch it up and I don’t know how someone with no fashion experience can do this. I can see online sales and marketing initiatives increasing, but, if nobody wants to buy your product in the first place, what’s the point? They used to open London Fashion Week – now I think they’d be laughed at for it.”

Arcadia was contacted by Drapers for comment. 

 

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