N Brown showed encouraging growth in the third quarter thanks to its newfound trading and buying agility, said its chief executive Angela Spindler.
Spindler said the ongoing transformation of N Brown into a digital business, which has seen it overhaul its processes and begin testing a new web platform, has already begun to bear fruit.
In particular, the focus on ecommerce rather than catalogues or stores helped the retailer through the “bizarre weather” in the run-up to Christmas.
The warm and wet autumn saw sales of T-shirts rise by 17% and rainwear by over 10%, while heavier items such as outerwear and knitwear suffered.
“But with our newfound trading and buying agility we were able to manage the season from a stock point of view,” said Spindler.
“Online, you can adjust marketing communications on a daily basis. The way we manage stock online is little and often in terms of drops of new stock and repeats of bestsellers. So as the season plays out you can adjust your buy accordingly.
“From a stock perspective we’re exiting the quarter pretty clean given it was bizarre weather, and trading well.”
N Brown’s like-for-like store sales were flat for the 18 weeks to January 2. Spindler described this as “a bit disappointing”, but argued that, in the context of declining footfall across UK high streets, “it’s ok”.
She pointed out that N Brown only has 15 stores, accounting for 3% of group turnover. “The stores are profitable but it’s not our growth engine.”
She added: “I’m confident that our new season ranges are landing well and that was a bit of blip for the stores.”
N Brown’s three power brands, Simply Be, Jacamo and JD Williams, all performed well during the period. However, some of its smaller, more traditional brands did not.
Simply Be and Jacamo sit together in one segment of the business, as they are both about 90% online. Although it is moving in that direction, JD Williams sits in a different segment along with brands targeted at women over 65, such as Ambrose Wilson and Fifty Plus.
The third and final segment covers N Brown’s more traditional, catalogue-based brands.
Spindler said the time had come to make some changes. “We’ve been marketing to Ambrose customers as if they are JD Williams customers but they haven’t been responding. So we’re moving them into the traditional segment. We don’t expect it to deliver strong growth, but we do think it can do better.”
She continued: “Within Fifty Plus about half of customers are contemporary, like those of JD Williams, and half are like those of Ambrose. Our intention is to migrate them one way or another depending on shopping behaviour.”