Leading figures from the young fashion and womenswear sectors were invited to discuss the challenges facing brands, from stock management to retail expansion, in today’s trading climate.
C autious trading updates and concerns over consumer confidence define the mood at young fashion and womenswear brands, but delivering a compelling brand proposition and managing expansion could hold the key to their success going into 2011.
Jessica Brown, Drapers: There has been more emphasis put on the history and background of a brand. How important is heritage?
Derrick Campbell, Lyle & Scott: If we put ‘Made in England’ on something, it becomes a strong selling proposition.
Jason Lynch, Noa Noa: Heritage at the moment is worth money. When there’s a story behind a basic white T-shirt, there’s money in that. It’s more relevant now, because independents are trying to buy a ‘banker’, something they feel is safe. Independents we supply are cutting back on suppliers but increasing spend on those they already have.
Karen Campbell, Fenchurch: We lost our way but decided to go back to our heritage. We’ve got a strong story we are promoting, which is a legitimate and true story. You shouldn’t pretend to be something you’re not.
Roger Wade, Brands Incorporated: The major cuts in the public sector will filter through and we will go through another bad period. Now is the time to defend [the unique position] you’ve got.
Jamie Lloyd, Religion: You need to fully occupy whatever niche you’re trying to occupy, then you’ll be safe. If people are cutting back on a proliferation of brands of any type then they will come back to niche brands. If you can crack that, then you’ll be in the best position you can be.
Simon Poole, Luke: It’s not just about heritage. It depends on who is driving the business. For example, new people joined Lyle & Scott and changed its distribution. That’s why that brand is working - because it’s not over-distributed.
Shaeren McKenzie, McArthurGlen: It’s also about accepting that the market is changing. The consumer needs to feel confident. You have to engage with them in a dialogue. Why do [brands] want to be in McArthurGlen? [Because] we make consumers feel comfortable.
DC: We underestimate just how savvy the customer is. How many people were on Facebook in July? It was 500 million. We have consumers coming to our Facebook profile page and uploading pictures of Lyle & Scott products they’ve bought. It’s free publicity. It opens up a great big world.
KC: We put new product designs onto our Facebook page let our fans vote. It’s brilliant having that feedback.
JB: With such volatile week-to-week trading patterns, how do you manage stock? And with every business wanting to grow, how do you plan for growth in uncertain times?
J Lynch: We’ve got to grow but also keep the integrity of where we came from. Our customers are so loyal and they travel enormous distances to find the brand. We need to keep evolving the brand to find new customers. Before, there was a pattern, but at the moment a Monday could be better than a Saturday. You just don’t know. It’s difficult to predict. It’s exciting, but completely unpredictable.
James Lakeland: Two weeks ago my Westfield London store had its best week, then last week its worst. How do I grow from 30 to 50 shops without investment from anybody? Do I sell a part of the business? I had an offer from someone in Japan but I’m not ready to sell; yet how do I grow without any investment?
RW: I question whether you need to grow in this market. Sometimes it’s good to protect your business. A clever businessman realises when it’s time to protect what they’ve got. This is a time to keep what you’ve got.
SP: A lot of [publicly listed] brands are trying to drive growth. I could double turnover tomorrow and have a nice lifestyle, but I’m trying to build a brand for the future.
J Lloyd: I disagree. Recessionary times are a good opportunity for growth. When conditions are tight, all those opportunistic enthusiasts drop by the wayside and you’re left with people that are niche. It’s a great opportunity to find your niche and identify what you’re doing without having to go wide on your distribution.
DC: It’s about reinventing yourself, because the consumer needs to be continually excited. Don’t think the success of a season ago will become a success again. It’s about being brave.
Daniel Morris, Boxfresh: We spent two years doing something wrong - we were chasing the money and the consumer. But we couldn’t compete [with the high street]. We’ve put prices up three times in the past 18 months and we’re having a record year. The opportunities are coming from Asia. I’ve been to Asia five times this year and we will put more money on our bottom line by going to Asia.
Juls Dawson, Gio-Goi: We see growth by working closely with our customers but it’s also about knowing your retailers’ customers as well.
JB: Independents are the crux of many of your businesses. How do you help those independents? How do you manage the risk of supporting indies with stock?
DM: If indies know you have the stock, they start relying on you and all of a sudden they’re buying a lot less forward. If you lose some business through a lack of stock you have to deal with that.
J Lakeland: Today someone came to buy some stock from us and they wanted to return the losers and buy all the winners. I said no.
DM: But it’s about taking that long-term view of whether you want to work with that retailer again.
SP: How about the retailer that phones you up and says they’ve sold out [of stock] and asks how much you’ve got left? You say 65 pieces and they say they want all of them. We’re taking all the risk in that scenario. Nowadays we don’t give stock numbers out. I monitor forward orders and give what we think we should to customers who support us.
DM: I’m the same. I monitor who buys forward order and who puts a request in for stock. We turn into a stock house otherwise. If they buy 40 [styles] up front and want another 60, I’ll do that.
J Lakeland: It’s actually very nice to sell out. It’s brilliant to tell people.
SM: Yes, from a brand point of view it means you’re able to say to the customer ‘we sold out, but come back quicker next time’.
Alison Middleton, AM Retail Consultants/National Geographic: It’s also about the property industry and landlords. Half the indies are being squeezed out because of [high] rents. It would be nice if some property people were having the same sort of discussion we’re having now. It’s all about having an interest in what your partner is doing.
JD: I know some indies have taken advantage of the property situation.
SP: Landlords need to attract a diverse range of retailers to attract more shoppers.
Lyle & Scott
Trade marketing manager, Fenchurch
Owner, Simon Carter
Sales director, Gio-Goi
Owner, James Lakeland
General manager, Religion
Director of marketing, McArthurGlen
Director for UK and Northern Europe, McArthurGlen
Managing director, AM Retail Consultants/ National Geographic
Managing director, Boxfresh
UK leasing director, McArthurGlen
Managing director, Luke
Chief executive, Brands Incorporated