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Brand positioning key to Ben Sherman's future success

Ben Sherman must clearly define its brand positioning if it is to re-establish itself in the UK market, menswear industry insiders have said.

The British heritage brand was put up for sale by its US owner Oxford Industries, which bought it for £80m in 2004, last week.

Sources indicated it had been put on the market because its financial performance is weaker than some of Oxford Industries’ other labels, including Tommy Bahama and Lilly Pulitzer.

For the year to January 31, sales at the brand were up 26.6% to £49m. However, it made a full-year loss of £7.3m, down from £8.8m the year before.

Observers told Drapers the new owners will need to better define Ben Sherman’s position in the market.

The traditionally mid-market brand has unsuccessfully tried to reposition itself towards the premium end in recent years. Four years ago, a Ben Sherman shirt wholesaled for around £18; this price is now closer to £25.

One long-standing independent stockist of the brand said: “It’s a mainstream product and it’s trying to be something that it’s not. It has become very niche. The price point is targeting the top end of the high street market and that customer isn’t interested.”

He continued: “The worst case scenario would be if Sports Direct bought it. If it’s a repeat of the Firetrap situation we’ll cancel all our orders.” Young fashion brand Firetrap was bought by Sports Direct in a pre-pack administration deal in March 2012.

One menswear source suggested Oxford Industries made its intention to sell public to create a bidding war. He added: “No premium retailers in the UK stock it. The product is heavily discounted through their own factory outlets and stock disposal to discounters.

“An investor needs to allow Ben Sherman to take a position in the marketplace. It has huge potential with an investor who knows brands on an international basis, [such as] for example, Searchlight Capital, who are rebuilding Hunter at a premium level.”  

Anusha Couttigane, fashion consultant at retail research firm Conlumino, said the key to ensuring the future success of the brand will be determining its market positioning. “It has attempted to re-establish itself as a premium brand, with a tighter range and higher price points, but unfortunately this goes against what consumers have been used to in the past and it has failed to fully vocalise its rebranding here.

“Essentially, it needs to justify its premium positioning.”

Mark Maidment, chief executive of Ben Sherman, told Drapers: “Ben Sherman saw great progress in 2014, reinforcing a unique brand proposition in the menswear market, and is on a positive trajectory. Ben Sherman’s strong heritage and positive brand resurgence has laid a good foundation for moving forward with a sale process.”

A brief history of Ben Sherman

  • 1963 – Ben Sherman is founded by Arthur Benjamin Sugarman
  • 1967 – The first store opens in Brighton
  • 1993 – British investor 3i backs a management buyout of Ben Sherman from Northern Ireland-based Dunkeld fashion group, then in receivership, for £4m
  • 2000 – 3i finances a second management buyout that creates Ben Sherman PLC
  • 2004 – US firm Oxford Industries buys Ben Sherman for £80m from 3i and Irish venture capital company Enterprise Equity

@jillgeoghegan

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