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Analysis: Can Jaeger weather the storm?

As Jaeger opens a new store on London’s Marylebone High Street, Drapers assesses the plans to reverse the premium retailer’s fortunes. 

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Jaeger, Marylebone High Street

Jaeger’s new store on Marylebone High Street

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1610 jaeger 013

Jaeger, once the retailer of choice for affluent older women, has lagged behind its rivals at the top end of the high street, battling operating losses of £6.6m and a 6.8% fall in sales in the year to 27 February.

The 132-year-old retailer has also suffered a string of high-profile departures over the past year, after omnichannel director Caroline Lee, chief financial officer Harminder Atwal and retail director Anita Lyons followed former chief executive Colin Henry out the door.

Jaeger is now in the hands of Chris Horobin, operating partner at private equity firm Better Capital, which has owned Jaeger since 2012. As interim CEO of Jaeger, he has focused on improving the in-store experience and creating more excitement around its product.

Jaeger's Laboratory Vol 2 capsule collection autumn 16

Jaeger’s Laboratory Vol 2 capsule collection autumn 16

Jaeger’s Laboratory Vol 2 capsule collection autumn 16

Jaeger closed three loss-making stores in the first quarter of 2016, including its 27,500 sq ft Regent Street flagship, and opened a store on Marylebone High Street at the end of October. Meanwhile, it launched the second capsule collection from its Laboratory sub-brand and a collaboration with denim seller Donna Ida for autumn 16. Laboratory Vol 2 is more directional than Jaeger’s classic core ranges, taking inspiration from architectural shapes and sportswear.

Sources tell Drapers there is still some way to go before Jaeger is back to its glory days. One former employee says the product “seems to be improving” and includes “some lovely pieces and a good cashmere and coat offer”. But she adds: “It feels like Jaeger has lost its point of view. You don’t get the sense it’s a full, joined-up collection.”

Another source suggests this was compounded by the closure of the Regent Street flagship in January: “The menswear offer is strong but 25% of menswear sales used to come from the Regent Street store, and now that’s closed, there’s nowhere in London with a comprehensive range.

”They’ve squashed some into other stores but even the new Marylebone store isn’t big enough to be a flagship.” He adds that attempts to make Jaeger more contemporary by introducing sub-brands such as Laboratory “alienate Jaeger’s core customers”.

But Sheila McKain-Waid, a former designer at Oscar de la Renta, who joined Jaeger as creative director in November 2013, says the brand has worked hard on developing its product: “We’ve really dug into who our customers are and we’ve understood it’s not about age demographic – it’s more about lifestyle and the aesthetic customers aspire to, where perhaps before we had pigeonholed people into different categories.”

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Jaeger

Inside the Marylebone store

Horobin adds that the Marylebone High Street store, which opened on 27 October, presents a fresh vision of Jaeger and will attract new customers.

Close neighbours with premium stablemates Whistles, Theory and Sandro, the new store is a departure for Jaeger. It is lighter and brighter, and launched with windows showcasing the new après-ski collection, rather than the workwear that made Jaeger’s name.

“The new store really shows off the clothes. It is the first time we’ve been able to design a store that’s really in line with the new product, so the whole thing comes together in one message to the customer,” Horobin tells Drapers.

Jaeger now has 49 stores in key cities including London, Cambridge, Brighton and Oxford. Horobin says this number will stay fairly stable.

“In terms of the store portfolio, there’s always management of the estate when leases come up, but it’s much more business as usual,” he explains. “We’ve turned a corner where we’ve got the portfolio as clean as we need it to be.”

Independent retail analyst Richard Hyman says Jaeger has “undoubted strengths”, such as good brand equity. But he warns that turning any retailer around at the moment, given the difficult trading conditions on the high street, is not an easy task.

“Almost every retailer is facing challenges we’ve never seen before. That pressure is not democratic and it’s an extraordinary market to sustain a meaningful turnaround.”

It was necessary to move out of the expensive, too-big Regent Street store, but without it Jaeger will have to work harder to get its brand message across. And while anecdotal evidence suggests the Donna Ida tie-up has gone down well, the latest Laboratory collection will not be to everyone’s taste. Jaeger may have strong brand equity, but it needs a clearer point of difference in a crowded market. With retailers braced an extremely tough 2017, it will have to fight even harder to survive.

Jaeger’s turnaround timeline 

  • April 2012 Investment firm Better Capital buys Jaeger from entrepreneur Harold Tillman for £19.5m, acquiring a 90% stake in the business
  • July 2013 Former Espirit chief product officer Colin Henry joins as new CEO and begins a “polyester purge”, pledging to improve garment quality
  • September 2015 Henry takes an unexpected leave of absence and then exits the business ahead of the peak Christmas trading period

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