Asda’s clothing boss Fiona Lambert is targeting the 47% of the population who don’t have an Asda within reach for the growth of its George clothing business.
Lambert, vice president of George and George Home brand, told delegates at the Drapers Fashion Forum: “Like everyone else we are faced with a business that was very much bricks and mortar and was enhanced by the fact that you have 19 million people a week going into an Asda store. Now we are evolving into an omnichannel business.
“We know that 47% of the population have an Asda within reach so appealing to an online customer who has never set foot in an Asda or has never seen a George range is one of the great opportunities - or great challenges - for us at the moment.”
George turns 25 next year and Lambert confirmed it considers itself a clothing brand, rather than a supermarket brand.
“I don’t think there is any reason why great quality and great style should be exclusive; we want to make it inclusive,” she said. “We are a family brand: the mix is 40% kids, 40% women’s and 20% men’s. The great thing even at a time where it is really tough on the high street is that kids grow, so we have a business that is 40% kidswear; you have to keep buying.”
George sells 300 million units per year. “There are a lot of socks and pants in there but it is a big business,” she said.
She said the brand has established three offices overseas in the last three years (in Turkey, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh) to allow decisions and processes to be made in those countries and enhance speed and flexibility.
She also pointed to initiatives such as Graduate Fashion Week, which George will continue to sponsor next year, as a way of providing differentiation of the brand’s ranges.
She explained: “I think in an age of technology where everyone is accessing the same information you are in danger of everything looking the same and to actually find designers who start with a wonderful piece of fabric and then embellish it and then create a garment out of it. It was fantastic to hire a print designer recently who wanted the space to paint watercolours.
“Grace Weller who won GFW last year was just outstanding because she had beautiful sketchbooks and had done some wonderful things with fabric development.”
Lambert said she expected trading to be tough in 2015 as the trend of discounting continues to have an impact.
“We have a huge amount of customer data come to us through our digital channels, but it was interesting when I walked round a store with one of our customers and listened to a 26-year-old mum - the amount of deals that come to customers like her on a daily basis means that she is sitting waiting to decide where to spend her money.
“George as a business is a low-price business. …You are competing with something you believe is great value against something that might be higher priced based on a higher margin due to overheads, [but] the customer thinks they are getting better value because it is discounted. It is challenging.”