The managing director of supermarket brand George at Asda has his work cut out to double sales within five years, but believes a clean brand identity and a focus on quality will help it do just that
George at Asda managing director Andrew Moore has been handed a tough task. When he was promoted earlier this year, George had reached its goal of becoming the largest clothing retailer by volume just two months earlier. The bar has now been raised even higher, and his job is to double the supermarket brand’s sales within five years.
Moore has been with George since 2008 and was a key part of the team that drove the brand to pip rivals Marks & Spencer and Primark to the top volume spot last year. While it has since slipped back to third place - Moore is confident of “recovering the number one crown” again this year - achieving the top spot was a key milestone.
Quality and quantity
“Two years before I joined George the business was underperforming, and the three-stage plan was to focus, drive and broaden,” he says. “At the first stage we needed to understand what customers wanted, focus on quality, getting the stock control right, and converting more Asda shoppers to George.
“The second phase was to drive the business in stores and online and invest in IT systems to make sure merchandise planning systems were up to speed.”
The phase Moore is now leading is to broaden the business by targeting new customers, to expand its chain of Asda Living shops - which offer clothing, homeware and entertainment products - from 24 to 150 stores within five years, to introduce new product lines and to drive online. While he would not reveal George’s current UK sales, he said global sales were $4bn (£2.6bn).
Moore, who was previously supply chain and merchandising director, was promoted in February when his predecessor Anthony Thompson left to join lifestyle chain Fat Face. Moore says George is now able to broaden its appeal because the brand has come of age: “We’re moving away from basic fashion to more stylish fashion. We believe customers should not have to pay a premium for quality fashion, so we have put our efforts into good-quality, stylish fashion, at affordable prices.”
He explains that the way George handles its ranges is important to give customers confidence that the brand knows what it’s talking about: “A washing line of different styles doesn’t give customers confidence.” Instead, George will buy wholeheartedly into trends, such as maxi dresses. “We will make sure we have a wide range and display them together with bold imagery to give authority.”
Moore has begun research on customer demographics to find out where there are gaps in George’s offer. “We’ve done research in the past, but the results have not been as locked into the product development process as they should have been,” he explains.
One retailer says that for George to achieve its sales targets it would need to change its pricing so it wouldn’t have to rely so much on volume. Rival Tesco last year introduced a higher-priced clothing range called F&F Couture, with items priced at £90 for a sequin jacket and £140 for a pagoda dress.
The retailer adds: “George does very well in kids’ and certain women’s categories, such as workwear, but it is weak in categories such as menswear.”
Moore admits that menswear is its weakest range but said there were lots of plans in the pipeline to broaden the brand’s appeal across many sectors. “Womenswear and kidswear are the strongest [categories] and we will increase that offer and seek to slightly stretch the price hierarchy,” he says.
He points to work on kidswear as examples of how George is broadening its appeal. Kidswear was previously for four to 12-year-olds, but it will be extended up to 14 years in September. “The teen sector is very difficult because they don’t want kids’ clothes. They want to be more fashionable. Our new range has more of an edge, and we’ll see how it goes, but it could go up to age 16.”
George is also working with parenting website www.mumsnet.com on a project called Chosen by You, in which mums on the site, and George’s customers, road test schoolwear on their kids and then suggest modifications for the next season’s range.
That’s Asda price
He is adamant that prices will always be as low as possible, despite the volatile market. One of the business’s key objectives is to work closer with its US parent Wal-Mart on global sourcing.
Moore explains: “On core fabrics we have the opportunity to buy in huge quantities and that means we can continue to offer the best value.” He is working on a project for denim whereby Wal-Mart makes a global buy, then each market will take what it needs to suit its product and customers.
Moore, who has spent the majority of his career at Marks & Spencer including more than two years working with entrepreneur George Davies
on the launch of the retailer’s Per Una label, has tweaked responsibilities across his staff to allow the senior team to work on key strategic changes and initiatives.
He has created a trading and planning board of six staff to “improve planning and execution through the year to ensure, for example, that marketing speaks to store operations”.
This team sits below the senior team, made up of Moore, brand director Fiona Lambert, who has taken over online, retail director and managing director of Asda Living Roger McLaughlin, people director Caroline Massingham and finance director Jo Whitfield.
While Moore admits that customers are living in “times of uncertainty”, he is confident George will prosper: “In difficult times people like to trust retailers and with our work on quality, fashion, service and availability, I think we can do quite well.” He points to George’s 100-day guarantee offered on returns as an example: “Customers have always trusted us on price, now we’re telling them they can also trust us on quality.”
And will he hit his five-year target? “We’ve got so much to go for, it’s a really exciting time for the brand. We’ll definitely give it our best shot,” he smiles.
2010 Executive managing director, George at Asda
2008 Merchandising, supply and sourcing director, George at Asda
2007 Board consultant, Woolworths, South Africa
2004 Director of general merchandise planning, Marks & Spencer
What have been the best-performing categories for spring 10?
Maxi dresses, check shirts, jeggings and T-shirts.
What will be your hero products for autumn 10?
Skinny-leg trousers and long-line tops.
Which retailers do you most admire?
I’m always impressed by [furniture retailer] Ikea. Its business model provides customers with good-quality, well-designed merchandise at great value. It invented ‘unbundling’ [allowing customers to buy services in increments] long before Ryanair and Easyjet.
Which is your favourite shop (aside from George)?
Daunt Books on Marylebone High Street. All it sells is books but the shopping experience is fabulous and it’s a brilliant example of how the best, traditional retailers can succeed alongside the value sector and dotcom.
Who is your fashion mentor?
I’ve worked with a lot of great people but one I would pick out is George Davies [founder of George at Asda and Per Una].
I worked with George at Marks & Spencer during the time of the Per Una launch, and he’s an amazing man. I learnt so much. Just watching him operate - he’s a retailing genius and an inspiration. I also worked with [M&S executive chairman] Stuart Rose, and learnt a lot from him.
If you weren’t in this job, what would you like to be doing?
I love cars, so maybe being a test driver would be my second choice of job, after George.