Newly appointed White Stuff CEO Jo Jenkins will bring a wealth of retail experience to the role, but faces numerous challenges particularly when it comes to improving its product and digital offer.
Jenkins will join White Stuff by spring 2018 at the latest, replacing Jeremy Seigal, who is retiring.
She is currently director of clothing and beauty at Marks & Spencer, where she also sits on the operating committee.
Jenkins joined M&S in 1987 as a range selector, moving to Next after 10 years to become its womenswear product director, a position she held for 15 years. She rejoined M&S in 2013 as director of lingerie and beauty and in 2015 became director of womenswear, lingerie and beauty.
She shifted to the role of director of clothing and beauty when former Halfords CEO Jill McDonald joined M&S in the newly created role of managing director for clothing, home and beauty.
Observers were quick to point out Jenkins’ experience, particularly on the product side, and argued that it was only a matter of time before Jenkins sought a new challenge, particularly after McDonald was brought in above her.
Moira Benigson, managing partner of executive recruitment experts MBS Group, said Jenkins brings “best-in-class retailing” experience to White Stuff.
However, she argued that White Stuff “needs work”: “It doesn’t have a website that lures you in, you’re not hotfooting it down to stores for the nicest product.
“There’s lots to be done around marketing, digital, the ecommerce site and in stores. Their biggest competitors – Fat Face, Boden, White Company – have fabulous websites and make you want to be ‘that’ woman wearing ‘that’ cashmere jumper. But you don’t want to be the person wearing White Stuff.
“She [Jenkins] could breathe life into it without a doubt.”
In August, White Stuff announced that its full-year underlying EBITDA fell by 29% to £15m on the back of “increased investment”, which was followed by a string of redundancies a month later. However, sales rose by 6.2% to £153.6m.
There are plenty of opportunities to grow the business. For example, international sales were up 41.9% during the year, and it is opening new stores in markets like Germany, Belgium and Italy.
“I’m sure this [new appointment] will provide White Stuff with an opportunity to turn its focus back on brand and product – back to the engine room as it were,” the product director of one womenswear brand said. “In this marketplace it’s always been important – that interaction, that problem solving.”
Debbie Hewitt, chairman of White Stuff, said: “[Jenkins] is a talented retailer who brings great customer insight, relevant product knowledge and strong store operations experience and she has a track record of developing effective supply chain relationships.
“She is recognised for leading with a strong brand vision and for bringing a positive customer ethos to the core of the businesses that she has worked with. Her experience will enable her to work with our team to strengthen our brand credentials and to develop the business into new areas.”
Meanwhile, all eyes will be on M&S to see how it copes with this latest departure.
Although McDonald possesses plenty of retail experience, she has none in fashion. As Jenkins exits, M&S is losing another pair of stable hands in what is anticipated to be a difficult Christmas.