Bonmarché will reduce its reliance on heavy knitwear and outerwear this autumn and introduce a greater range of weights, after last year’s mild weather hit sales of coats and jumpers.
Chief executive Beth Butterwick said: “We have learnt a lot from last autumn and we will be doing what we call internally ‘weatherproofing’ the product range for this autumn, based on that.
“We have scaled back the size of the mix of knitwear and outerwear and introduced more variety in terms of lighter showerproof pieces, shrugs, capes and coatigans to reduce the reliance on heavier knitwear and outerwear in the early autumn months.”
Thanks to “successful enhancements to product ranges and prices”, Bonmarché grew revenue by 8.7% to £178.6m and profit before tax by 55.3% to £12.4m in the year to March 28.
Butterwick said the value womenswear retailer is taking its customers on a “gentle journey” to more fashionable and contemporary styles, while maintaining the “flattering fit” and quality it prides itself on.
“We divide our collections into contemporary and classic; two years ago our contemporary offer was 35% of the mix and now it is 67%,” she explained. “This season our print trousers, layered tops and blouses have been particularly strong.”
Last summer, Bonmarché introduced the Ann Harvey plus-size range in 23 stores and online as a trial. Having proved successful, it plans to hold a soft relaunch of the label in autumn, in sizes 16 to 32 and priced in line with the David Emanuel special occasion range.
Butterwick said the Ann Harvey range attracts a slightly younger customer aged 58, compared with Bonmarché’s average age of 63.
The retailer will also continue to test and learn from its menswear trial in 50 stores.
She said: “We have learnt that it is predominantly women buying for their partners, it is incremental spend and our customer wants to see trousers and bottoms so we will roll those out for autumn.”
Last year, Bonmarché tested Black Friday promotions online only and had a record day and week of trading online during the week it fell. This year, Butterwick said the retailer would introduce exclusive deals in both stores and online for the promotional day and develop product specifically for it to ensure it doesn’t cannibalise full-price sales of other products.
The development of its new responsive website has taken longer than planned and is expected to be live next month. Beyond this, the retailer plans to improve search and navigation functionality and update its fulfilment service to give customers the opportunity to track and trace parcels, as well as a wider choice of delivery options.
Bonmarché also opened 29 new stores, taking it to a total of 265 standalone stores, 17 garden centre concessions and 10 other concessions by the year end.
“We will open another 20 to 25 stores this year, with a mixture of standalone stores and concessions,” said Butterwick. “Garden centres have been working really well for us and we think there is lots more opportunities here as there are more than 3,000 throughout the country. Those with a good restaurant that people visit for a day out tend to be the ones that work the best for us.”