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New Bonmarché CEO outlines her turnaround strategy

A focus on its core customer, expansion into new categories, exiting menswear and entering new supply markets form the basis of Bonmarché chief executive Helen Connolly’s plan to turn around the struggling value retailer.

bonmarche autumn 16

Connolly, who joined Bonmarché in August following the departure of Beth Butterwick, was bullish about its future this week, despite releasing a disappointing set of results for the 26 weeks to 24 September.

Profit before tax and exceptional items fell 63% on the same period in 2015, to £2m. Total sales fell 4% to £93.1m, and like-for-like sales dropped 8.6%.

Connolly told Drapers a sharp focus on “who the customer is and what she wants” will help the business come through the other end. Bonmarché previously targeted four customer “personas”, but is now reducing this to one.

“I wanted everyone focusing on one clear profile when it came to planning, buying, selling,” she explained.

Connolly, who was previously senior buying director for Asda’s George, is also trying to “move the product on” by tweaking certain styles – for example, a traditional lilac turtleneck jumper has been updated to a cowl neck in a brick red. A parka updated to a denim-look fabric has also performed well so far this season.

She said Bonmarché was “too reliant” on jersey, so she has introduced suppliers from India, Turkey and Morocco to “diversify its handwriting” and speed up its delivery to market. The bulk of Bonmarché’s manufacturing is still based in China.

Connolly said she is also trying to speed up the firm’s existing supply chain: “We are working with them to become more agile and flexible. We want to get lead times down from 28 weeks to 18 to 20 weeks.”

The chief executive said there was “great opportunity” in some of the sectors of womenswear where Bonmarché is currently underperforming.

“We need to move away from jersey and move further into knitwear, which is trading well for us at the moment. We also need to do more on tops, blouses and outerwear. The changes in the supply chain will facilitate that.”

Connolly has decided to scrap the small amount of menswear Bonmarché offers by Christmas. It has been on sale in 50 stores and online since October 2014.

“The departure from menswear is a permanent move,” she told Drapers. ”We need to focus on a few things and do them really well. Our market share in certain womenswear categories shows we are not servicing our customers in some core areas, so we need to work on that. There is real opportunity for growth.”

As exclusively reported by Drapers earlier this month, Bonmarché has made a “handful” of redundancies at mid-management level. Connolly would not be drawn on how many people were affected, but said the changes were necessary to become a “truly multichannel business”.

“We made some structural changes to align how we plan and how we buy from a multichannel perspective,” she added. ”We had two separate teams and we needed to merge them.”

In line with the guidance issued in September, Bonmarché’s full-year profit before tax is likely to fall within a range of between £5m and £7m.

On current trade, Connolly said: “We’re seeing some improvements, with sales coming through knitwear and coats. We’ve traded into bestsellers and we’ll be buying more in season for January and February.

”It’s a challenging market – we need to be more agile and trade into categories that will work for us.”

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