Ex-Primark and M&S product guru’s arrival set to trigger shake-up after chain’s 2010 sales slump
According to sources close to New Look, the arrival of Kilmartin, whose exact job title remains unclear, is likely to prompt changes or a reshuffle at the fast-fashion chain’s buying, merchandising and design team which is led by group buying director Roger Wightman, head of group merchandising Carolyn MacKenzie and design director Barbara Horspool.
Kilmartin’s appointment is understood to have been prompted after the UK’s second-largest womenswear chain suffered dismal trading in the latter half of 2010, which it blamed on having the wrong product and pricing structure. At Christmas, its like-for-likes slumped a massive 9.1% over the 15 weeks to January 8.
Its collections were also impacted by the disruption caused by the relocation of its buying, merchandising and design teams to London from Weymouth in 2009.
Kilmartin, who left his position as buying and merchandising director at value chain Primark before Christmas, previously spent eight years at M&S in a number of roles including trading director for menswear. He has also worked at Moss Bros and Next. He joined Primark in June 2009.
New Look has also fallen foul of shifts in trading patterns by shoppers who have either traded down to Primark and the supermarkets, or up to the likes of Marks & Spencer.
New Look is also likely to have been affected by what is believed to have been a difficult February on the high street (see box, below).
Meanwhile, this week the retailer, which also failed in its attempt to float on the stock market last year, had its valuation halved £13.5m by SVG Capital, an investor in New Look via Permira, one of its private equity backers.
Martin Clarke, New Look non-executive director and a partner at Permira - which took a 27.7% stake in New Look in 2004 for £700m, as did fellow private equity firm Apax - said Permira “fully endorsed” changes to the buying, merchandising and design teams.
“There have been issues in some of the buying functions,” said Clarke.
However, he stressed Permira had “every confidence in the business and the management team”, led by chief executive Carl McPhail.
Separately, New Look is still searching for a managing director for its UK, ecommerce and international channels after group managing director Will Kernan was promoted to chief operating officer.
Young fashion and middle market hit hardest in ‘shocking’ February
Retailers in the young fashion and middle market have been hit by a fall-off in trade in February.
One womenswear chief said trade had been “shocking” in February and that customers were only tempted to spend by discounts and promotions.
One supplier compared trade to the slump of 1979 when customers cut back on spending amid budget cuts and union strikes.
Figures from consultancy firm BDO for the week to February 13 showed clothing sales had fallen into negative territory during the week, down 0.5%. However, footwear sales rose 3.4%.
Another womenswear chief added that there was “a bit of a boom in January and a bit of a bust in February”. A department store boss said that while trade was bad for some it was “not universal”.
Some who reported sales up on last year said the figures were aided by soft comparisons from last year because of snow in February.
Simon Poole, managing director at men’s young fashion label Luke, said that despite the brand continually performing well, the market was “tough but not disastrous”.
Colin Temple, managing director of footwear chain Schuh, said: “I think shoppers were suffering a bit from Sales fatigue and everyone is a little more conscious of money because of VAT rises and spending cuts. The clothing market has probably been hit worse than footwear because there is more saturation in the market.”
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