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Karen Millen CEO's strategy to 'return to the brand's DNA’

Beth Butterwick, chief executive of Karen Millen, has unveiled her three-pronged strategy for the womenswear retailer.

Beth Butterwick

Beth Butterwick

In her first interview since joining the company in August, Butterwick told Drapers her plan for the next 12 months centred on three pillars: product; stores and digital; and team and processes. She will focus on bringing product back to the “heartland” of the brand, carry out a store review and speed up processes.

Butterwick said the retailer had moved away from its core customer base and the team has spent the last six months conducting research on what shoppers want from the brand.

“We went right back to the fundamentals of the brand,” said Butterwick. “The focus has to be on distinctive pieces that are style-led, glamorous and have a flattering fit. Karen Millen pieces aren’t disposable – they are an investment, so they need to make the customer feel good.”

“In 2013 there was a change of direction towards a more edgy look and they moved away from the heartland customer. Our brand DNA is femininity, our atelier ethos and our progressive mindset. We wanted to bring the personality back and we have a confident collection coming through [for autumn 17],” she added.

For autumn the brand has focused on tailoring, shirting and silhouettes with a cinched waist. Eveningwear features fitted dresses in berry tones with over-the-top shoulder and sleeve details. There are also elements of military and athleisure throughout the collection. The brand has reworked key pieces from the Karen Millen archive from the 1980s and 1990s, including a red velvet suit and a velvet puffa jacket. 

Our multichannel shopper spends three times as much as a single-channel shopper

Butterwick said the Karen Millen customer is “internationally minded, well travelled and professional”. The retailer, which has a presence in 45 countries, will take a more international outlook in terms of product to ensure the collection suits customers from all markets.

The brand is adopting a new year-round approach to selling the range in different time zones to tap into the “see now, buy now” trend. From September stores in Australia will have spring product and some of the autumn collection, as shoppers might be “flying out of Sydney but travelling to Sweden”.

Prices for autumn 17 are going up on average by 5%, although entry and exit prices will remain level with current prices, which start at £45 for a ribbed vest and go up to £899 for a shearling jacket.

“We have to get that price point right and also cater for our international customers, whether they be Middle Eastern and more conservative, or Russian and more flamboyant.” 

Karen Millen has 400 stores globally including concessions, outlets and franchise stores. In the UK the retailer has 89 doors, including 30 standalone stores.

Butterwick said she is conducting a review of all stores country by country to see what is right for each market. The chief executive said some stores in the UK will close but others will open in better locations. She is also considering opening flagship stores in some European countries for the first time.

“We’ve got to refine some countries that we’re in. We should have solo stores in France, Spain and Germany, for example. Stores are still important, as they allow shoppers to feel the quality of the clothes, and they provide click-and-collect. Our multichannel shopper spends three times as much as a single-channel shopper.”

Digital will continue to drive growth for the business and online sales are seeing double-digit growth year on year.

“It gives us a wider customer reach and we are aiming to get faster,” Butterwick added.

Karen Millen is also reviewing its outlet strategy and is looking into launching a “made for outlet” collection.

“Coach is already doing it, so we’re playing catch-up. We have a customer who likes to buy at discount as she can’t afford the full-price range just yet, but she is on that journey ,and she is an ambassador for us so we can’t ignore her.” 

Since joining Karen Millen, Butterwick has bolstered the executive team to help execute her strategy.

“We had to make sure we had the right team for Karen Millen. We have a mix of those that were already in place, and we promoted people in some cases, and I brought in some new people.”

Emily Tate joined as chief financial officer from Office in September. Richard Grainger joined as global buying and merchandising director in October from Michael Kors, where he was buying and merchandising senior director of ecommerce for Europe.

LK Bennett product director Tracey Stainer joined in the new role of creative design director this spring, and Drapers can reveal that FatFace’s head of property Tim Moody is joining the business as property director.

In its most recent financial results in the year to 27 February 2016 Karen Millen reported an operating loss of £10.5m following investment in digital infrastructure and weaker trading in key markets, including Russia. Operating losses the year before amounted to £9.7m. Total sales dropped 10% to £161m.


Readers' comments (2)

  • How are all those big salaries going to be paid from that size of business?
    Surely fewer Directors with a wider experience would be the answer.

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  • shoppers might be “flying out of Sydney but travelling to Sweden” ?! Must happen all the time

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