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New BHS to simplify shopping experience, says chief executive

BHS chief executive Darren Topp has said the store revamp debuted at its Watford branch today has been designed to make the shopping experience “as easy as possible” for customers.

The new-look store, which has 54,000 sq ft of retail space, features the retailer’s food store concept - which was first trailed in three BHS shops last year - a Claire’s Accessories concession, the retailer’s new logo and improved visual merchandising, product display and layout in its fashion department.

BHS will roll out the concept to 20 more stores by mid-October. Topp said the business has planning permission to add food departments to 140 of its 173 UK stores and will roll it out to another 50 in 2016.

The new concept has been designed to improve the customer’s experience in store, says Topp.

“It’s all for that 40-something busy, working, modern mum, who does all the buying for the household, for herself, her husband, the kids and the home.

“We have to tick those boxes, and we have to make it easy and exciting for her.

“We have updated the windows, added additional VM, made the layout and navigation clearer and given the store a lift. There has been a significant change,” he added.

Topp said the new logo, which features the words British Home Stores under the BHS initials, is a “key part” of the turnaround strategy.

“BHS used to be an iconic brand on the high street and we want to bring it back. The new logo signifies the heritage of the business and demonstrates the changes that we are making.”

In fashion Topp said the product was “more stylish and contemporary” but still age appropriate.

“We are starting to see the fruits of our labour in fashion and the offer is more stylish than before, but we are not trying to be high fashion. We have to find a version of trends that are appropriate for our shoppers.

“It’s key that we improve our style credentials in fashion as we are not the cheapest; our shopper is looking for quality at a good price. Our team, led by trading director for clothing Sara Bradley, has the credentials to do that and we can see the benefit coming through.”

Topp said there was room in the “competitive mid-market” for BHS.

“There are a lot of players in the mid-market but we have a unique width and depth of product. We are cheaper than M&S, we are not competing with Primark and Debenhams has a different, designer-led offer.

“There is space for us. The modern mum wants to buy some groceries while she shops clothes and homeware for her and her family.”

BHS is continuing the search for a “retail heavyweight” to join as chairman and manage the business. It expects a conclusion in “the next few months”.

Despite reports that BHS is in talks to sell its flagship store on Oxford Street, London, to another retailer earlier this month Topp insisted there was “no change” to the businesses property portfolio. “All retailers are constantly looking at their portfolio. We have too much space, like many high street retailers, but there are about 20 fantastic locations where we would like to open and we don’t have shops there at the moment. Closures are not the only option.”

Earlier this week the struggling department store chain, which was sold by Sir Philip Green to a group of financiers known as Retail Acquisitions for £1 in March, secured a loan from London-based investment group Grovepoint against a small number of its stores.

The deal has given the chain a working capital of around £85m, which will be used to fund the three-year turnaround and modernisation plan.

Despite the investment suppliers remain concerned at BHS’s lack of credit insurance however Topp said it has not stopped the business from moving forward. “Some have it and others don’t but it hasn’t stopped us from making and receiving orders. We are not short of stock. It’s annoying but no more than that. We are working closely with suppliers and helping them at every step.”

The retail boss said the business had a “fantastic start” to the autumn season and like for likes were up on last year, although said it was “still early days” but BHS was trading in line with expectations.

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