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Anthropologie applies its theory to UK market

There may be a recession in the UK, but Urban Outfitters is confident that its sister chain Anthropologie’s two London stores will win over shoppers

The UK fashion retail sector may be having a bumpy time, but that has not stopped US fashion group Urban Outfitters from making plans to launch its sister chain Anthropologie in the UK.

While Urban Outfitters targets men and women in their 20s with a mix of trend-led branded fashion and own label, Anthropologie targets women in their 30s and above with a mixture of eclectic own labels, a smattering of bought-in brands, as well as homewares, furniture and gifts.

Now the chain is bringing its quirky, bohemian style to the UK with two stores that will open in London. Following in the footsteps of recent international arrivals Banana Republic, Cos and Desigual, Anthropologie has chosen Regent Street as the location for its debut store, to open by the end of the year. A second store will open on the King’s Road in Fulham next year.

Former Selfridges marketing director James Bidwell was hired as managing director for Anthropologie Europe in September. Bidwell says: “The typical Anthropologie customer is aged about 33, more upmarket than not, and someone looking for something different and unique. Some Anthropologie product is made in limited runs, it’s not high street, but is well priced. It’s not just about the product, but also the store experience. Some shoppers even just like to hang out in the stores.”

However, any retailer or brand launching in the UK in the current economic climate is likely to have its work cut out. There is already intense competition among fashion retailers, and new entrants need to have exactly the right mix of differentiated product, great stores and pinpoint perfection on price.

Edward Whitefield, chairman of consultancy Management Horizons Europe Retail, warns that Anthropologie could have a slow start in the UK as discretionary spend is squeezed in the downturn.

“We are in the middle of the worst recession for 40 years and customers will be careful with their pound, especially with new brands. Urban Outfitters has established itself here but it was able to build up its brand credibility in a time when shoppers had more money to spend. Anthropologie doesn’t have the sex appeal of Abercrombie & Fitch, which is at the younger end of the market where shoppers don’t have the same pressures on disposable income.”

Bidwell is recruiting for a European buying and design team to make sure that Anthropologie’s UK product is focused towards the fashion instincts of UK shoppers.
This is a sensible approach according to Marshall Lester, chief executive of transatlantic brand management consultancy ML Marketing, who says it is vital to have a UK focus when selling in Britain. “Urban Outfitters is very successful and its approach with its stores in the UK has been totally right. They understand you can’t just drop the same retail concept across the ocean and expect it to work. You need local expertise,” he says.

Bidwell’s immediate aim is to get Anthropologie’s first UK stores open. The design of its stores, with imaginative displays, furniture and props, helps create an Aladdin’s cave atmosphere. Bidwell says this is a crucial part of the retailer’s appeal. He adds: “The stores will be very different from each other. The King’s Road location has the heritage and association with a bohemian lifestyle, while Regent Street is one of the best-known retail destinations in the world.”

There are still lots of details to be worked out in the run-up to the launch. Bidwell says: “The market is moving all over the place at the moment. We have to sit down and work out the exact pricing strategy and product mix. But we’ve got a very different proposition that is unique, and some of the most creative ideas come out of more difficult economic times.”

In numbers

Anthropologie stores
120 US stores

US$562m (£391m) net store sales

Key pieces and prices

  • Short-sleeved tops, £27 to £56
  • Dresses £71 to £216
  • Jackets £56 to £143
  • Knits £50 to £100
  • Denim £71 to £135
  • Footwear £86 to £290

7 For All Mankind, J Brand, Level 99 and Levi’s

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