Former Marks & Spencer clothing boss John Dixon will be tasked with modernising 177-year-old Australian department store David Jones and improving its food offer following his appointment as chief executive, according to observers.
Sources familiar with the Australian retailer, which has 38 stores based mostly in shopping centres, describe it as on a par with Selfridges, while its main competitor, Myer, is more like John Lewis.
One observer suggested Dixon was brought in to bring David Jones up to date: “It’s very process-driven. It is a bit of a backward company; it’s not very modern or fast-paced and the technology is slow.”
Others said Dixon’s experience with food was the main driver behind his appointment. He was executive director of M&S’s food division before taking over the general merchandise beat in 2012.
David Jones stocks own-brand and third-party Australian and international men’s, women’s and kids’ clothes, shoes, accessories and underwear, as well as electrical goods, white goods, homewares and beauty. Although it has some food halls, it is not best known as a food retailer.
Petah Marian, senior editor of retail intelligence at trend forecaster WGSN, who is from Melbourne, Australia, suggested food was a central part of the retailer’s strategy for growth.
“The two main department store players are in a battle for market dominance. Myer recently cut 100 brands in an effort to improve its performance and David Jones announced plans to launch smaller village-style formats. This might mean it’s considering an M&S-style expansion of its food offer, which would be perfect given Dixon’s prior experience.”
Another industry insider agreed: “The firm has plans for an upmarket food offer in the vein of Selfridges and M&S, so he will most likely be leading that.”
When his appointment was announced last week, Dixon said David Jones was a “perfect fit” for him. UK headhunters Drapers spoke to agreed.
Fran Minogue, managing partner at Clarity, said: “It’s a very good move for John and he’s a good choice for the role given his knowledge of both the clothing and food sides of the market.”
James Hyde, director of Flint Hyde, said: “There are only two department stores in Australia – David Jones and Myer – and David Jones is much higher-end. It’s a great hire for them. John is a great guy, very credible and well respected.
“He is also young, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he went on to become the chief executive of Woolworths [David Jones’ South African parent company] in three or four years’ time.”