For Jaeger’s new owners, instilling a sense of creative confidence, strong leadership and a coherent strategy will be essential building blocks in its turnaround.
While Aquascutum’s only lifeline looks to be rescue by an international group following its collapse last week, former sister business Jaeger’s turnaround is expected to hinge on strong executive and creative leadership.
Investment firm Better Capital, which snapped up Jaeger last week for £19.5m, is confident it can revive the troubled premium retailer, priming it for a sale in as little as two years. Better Capital founder and managing partner Jon Moulton told Drapers it has a better chance of flourishing without Aquascutum, which proved a financial burden on its parent group, the Harold Tillman-owned Broadwick.
Over the coming weeks, Better Capital will assess all aspects of the Jaeger business, prioritising areas including systems, logistics, purchasing and design. Moulton says: “The business’s performance over the last 18 months has been OK. There’s relatively healthy scope to restore profitability and growth, as well as growing internationally. We’d dearly love to emulate Burberry but we can’t know what we are doing just yet. Whatever changes will be made will be made quickly.”
Across the industry, the view is that a turnaround is likely to be anything but straightforward. It will depend on the strength of leadership across the day-to-day operation and creative functions.
According to Lucy Harris, retail partner at recruitment consultancy The Ashton Partnership, Jaeger’s leadership will need to be “pioneering”. She says: “It could once again be a strong brand but leadership needs to be inherently retail and have complete faith in the backing of the company.”
Most pressing is who will take control of the day-to-day operation of the business. Although the reins are in the hands of managing director Carolyn Springett, who took over from chief executive Belinda Earl when she stepped down last year due to ill health, Moulton is thought to be considering parachuting in a chief executive.
Springett’s recent review of Jaeger, which mooted changing the business model to outsource design and development functions to achieve greater efficiencies, is now “up for discussion”, according to Moulton. Furthermore, there are “quite a number” of vacant middle-management roles at head office that need to be filled, he adds.
According to a source close to the business, while there is still a need for Springett’s experience, an “expert chief executive” from outside the business could be the kick-start Jaeger needs to get back on its feet. “It needs reinvigoration all-round and to get rid of bad habits,” the source says.
Clarity over executive leadership will be needed to see the business through in the short term, but long-term success depends on a strong creative vision.
Industry figures suggest that only creative leadership – on a par with the strength of Burberry under chief creative officer Christopher Bailey – will be able to resolve a host of brand and product issues. These include what to do with the retailer’s heritage and clarifying Jaeger’s growing number of product lines.
Industry figures point out that Jaeger has lacked a cohesive creative vision across product, visual merchandising, marketing and advertising, store environment and online, resulting in mixed messages for consumers.
Andy Rogers, brand director of premium chain Reiss, says Jaeger “reeks of confusion”, pointing out that its advertising “speaks to cool, young London girls”, citing “directional” campaigns with model Lara Stone in 2009. But the product is out of step with these messages, speaking to an older lady, he says: “It all feels so limp. You’ve got to have a clear and compelling message from product to store, images to website. You’ve got to have a common language. [With Jaeger] there’s no conviction behind the brand and if these foundations are rocky then it’s hard to grow internationally.”
He also points out that strong creative leadership will be needed to decide on the right approach to the retailer’s heritage. A business with history can often be more of a burden than a market advantage, he says. Having a heritage means pressure on a business to acknowledge it when the market might not be appropriate for it.
He explains: “[Reiss is] lucky in that we don’t have a heritage. Our remit is to be modern. That releases us from the constraints of heritage. Heritage means you automatically have to talk about your history but are those designs relevant to the market today?”
In recent years, Jaeger has also expanded its product offering, introducing Jaeger London, Jaeger Black and Jaeger Limited Edition. In 2010, it launched Boutique by Jaeger, pitched at younger customers and featuring lower price points, and Jaeger by Jaeger, another limited-edition collection, also launched.
But this has only resulted in more confusion for consumers, says one source: “There have been so many [lines]. Do they really need all of them?”
While Jaeger has had some success with Boutique by Jaeger, according to Moulton, observers say it would be the wrong route for the retailer, which already has traction with an older market.
A formalwear source told Drapers: “It would be a mistake to go down the younger route. It has great brand recognition with the over-35s market, which wants a product that’s fashionable and stylish. It should stick to that.”
Breakdown of Jaeger’s international business
Brand distribution (for year to February 28, 2011)
Australia (three stores); Austria (two stores); Canada (seven stores) France (one store); Hong Kong (two stores); Italy (six stores) Japan (one store); Russia (six stores) Saudi Arabia (one store); Switzerland (one store); US (16 stores, including online)
Franchise stores Chile (one store); Dubai (two stores); Kuwait (one store); Lithuania (one store); Russia (four stores)
Standalone stores/concessions Canada (one store); Republic of Ireland (nine stores); Denmark (one store)
Key shop-in-shops/partners Coin, Italy; Harvey Nichols in Hong Kong and Saudi Arabia; Illum, Copenhagen; Myer, Australia; Nordstrom, US; Ogilvy, Canada