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Fashion Forum: Cultural knowledge is key to international expansion

“Retailers must control how their brand is represented whilst recognising cultural difference when expanding internationally,” said River Island chief executive Ben Lewis at today’s Drapers Fashion Forum.

The panel, which alongside Lewis consisted of Tesco F&F chief executive Jason Tarry, Harveen Gill, managing director of recruitment company HGA Group, Babette Marzheuser-Wood, partner at law group Dentons UKMEA LLP, Gerry Walters, vice-president at franchise business Fawaz A. Alhokair & Co, were in agreement that before launching into a new market a level of local knowledge is required.

Tarry, who said F&F is currently available in 23 countries and has opened 70 stores (outside of Tesco) in the last 18 months to two years, highlighted the importance of establishing whether a brand will fit a market and if it will need local knowledge and support. He said:“It could be a small market with a big opportunity or a big market with a niche opportunity.”

Tarry also said F&F isin the process of internationalising its website and has so far launched this year into Ireland with a EURO payment option and last week soft launched in Poland with a local language site.

River Island now sells to 120 countries and Lewis said that the business is also looking at “going down the localisation route”. Lewis highlighted the importance of product stating that “it always comes down to product – if you’re going into a market that doesn’t want the product then you don’t have a business.” He also said that retailers must think about the right entry to market. Marzheuser-Wood agreed on the importance of this, giving the example of Russia and China which she said are often too difficult to enter without a joint partner.

Looking at future emerging markets, Gill, who sees 70% of the recruitment business now come from international clients, said that the next 5-10 years will see Africa become very important. She also stated the need for home grown talent in these markets. “In emerging markets, the requirement is someone with skills that have been honed in a first world market.” Lewis agreed that this could be a market to watch in future years. Walters also suggested Spain as a country on an upward curve and described it as a future “jewel in the crown” for retailers.

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