High street clothing and footwear retailers are beginning to see the “green shoots” of the new spring season after a tough January trading period.
Retailers have told Drapers they are cautiously optimistic for 2015 now that the “post-Christmas hangover” is subsiding. Colin Temple, chief executive of Schuh, said: “The new season has been tough so far compared to this time last year. We’re starting to see some green shoots, but like-for-likes are tight. It’s not warm enough for the spring stock yet, but it has been looking a bit more hopeful over the last few weeks.”
Fat Face chief executive Anthony Thompson said the retailer has had a decent start to the year, but not “rip-roaring”. “It’s early days for the new product and the weather is still cold. January is always the quietest month of the year, but this year is a little different; the market is more distressed than normal as there is more Sale product following the hangover of the warm weather in October and November.
“I don’t think it will be a bumper year as there is a lot of uncertainty around the election in May, but consumers have more money in their pockets because of lower petrol prices. We’ll have to fight for our market share and there will be winners and losers, but I’m not pessimistic.”
A spokeswoman for a large clothing and footwear retailer said: “January was tough, but we came out relatively unscathed. There was a post-Christmas hangover and the market is still quite soft, but we sat tight; there were no knee-jerk discounts in January and the trade did come in the end.”
She said new season stock hit stores from mid-January, spurring an uplift in sales. “It wasn’t an end of January payday rush, it was driven by the desire for newness. And the weather’s where it should be at this point of the year; people have their winter warmers and they’re ready for new season stock.”
However, she echoed Thompson’s fears about the coming few months: “I expect it to remain tough. It could be that the general election fear factor will have an effect on shoppers.”
Honor Westnedge, lead retail analyst at research firm Verdict, said the unseasonably warm weather last autumn continued to have a knock-on effect in January, as retailers try to shift excess stock. “The warm temperatures deterred shoppers from stocking up on winter garments and they left it longer to buy. A lot of retailers have been left with high levels of stock in January that they may not have been able to clear.”
Charles Clinkard, managing director of the eponymous footwear chain, said: “Stock-wise we are slightly heavy on boots, purely down to a lack of seasonal weather early on. September was the killer.” Conversely, he said wintry weather in the north of the UK – it has two stores in Scotland and a number across the North of England – has had an impact on trade over the last few weeks. “We had mixed trading during January with snow causing some difficulties.”
Others had a more positive experience. Dominie Cripps, head of brand creative at lifestyle brand Joules, said the retailer was in a “good position” for the next few months after a strong sell-through in its January Sale. “Our new collection of outerwear is doing really well in response to the changeable weather, especially raincoats,” she explained.
Ray Clacher, managing director at Savile Row tailor Gieves & Hawkes, said January trading was positive, with total business up on last year. “Last month we discounted less and margins were improved year on year. New season merchandise sales have started very positively, and once we get over the very cold climate right now I believe we are set for another strong season.”
Tony Evans, managing director of footwear brand house Jacobson Group, said: “I’m cautiously optimistic for spring from a UK point of view. Getting the right weather in the right seasons makes a massive difference.”
Also in the news today…