New Look founder Tom Singh will prioritise improving the fast-fashion chain’s product ranges and re-engaging its suppliers following his return to an executive position at the business this week.
Sources in the market told Drapers that Singh wanted to redress the chain’s fashion and value credentials, after New Look took its collections “too young” and had been too simplistic with its blanket strategy to raise prices by 99p. He is expected to leverage the personal relationships and the goodwill he has with suppliers to make some quick-win changes to the collections.
Sales at New Look collapsed beyond the effect of poor consumer confidence and the heavy snow in the run-up to Christmas, and the chain admitted to having made mistakes with its product ranges, which resulted in the ousting of chief executive Carl McPhail this week.
New Look blamed some of the product errors on the relocation of its buying, merchandising and design team from Weymouth to London last year, which saw it lose about a third of its staff. Like-for-like sales dived 9.1% over the 15 weeks to January 8.
Singh was awarded the Drapers Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009. At that time he said: “New Look can’t prosper without offering the right fashion at a good price.
It will keep to that formula,” demonstrating he still subscribed to the model he used to open the first New Look store in Weymouth in 1969.
Sources told Drapers that Singh had been angered by recent changes to the buying teams, which included the appointment of former Primark buying and merchandising director Julian Kilmartin as group buying director for clothing as a replacement for Roger Wightman. Wightman was a Singh protégé who he hired 21 years ago.
One supplier said Singh could attempt to lure Wightman back to New Look though Wightman is already thought to have had several other job offers.
Singh will also spearhead the search for McPhail’s replacement. The market flagged several potential candidates this week including former chief operating officer and now Primark chief executive Paul Marchant as well as former River Island chief executive Richard Bradbury, although the prospect of him coming out of retirement is thought to be unlikely.
Other runners and riders included Marks & Spencer general merchandise director Kate Bostock, Next product director Christos Angelides, former Asda boss Andy Bond and Debenhams deputy chief executive Michael Sharp or its group trading director Suzanne Harlow. Mark McKeown, ex-chief operating officer of Warehouse and Principles, who is chief executive of Dutch department store business Vroom & Dreesmann, was also mooted as a successor.
The only potential internal candidate would be chief operating officer Will Kernan, but Singh is expected to plump for someone with a product background.
Comment: New Look must return to its roots
New Look must go back to basics - not literally white T-shirts you understand but rather back to its heartland of interpreting catwalk looks in a non-scary way for its average customer. Last time I checked, that customer was actually a woman aged 32 with kids, not the teeny bopper the market sometimes mistakes it for.
This season’s collection offers plenty of wearable styles among the difficult trend stories but (in London stores at least) there needs to be constant and spot-on replenishment across all sizes of best-sellers if the chain wants to score big.
Recent strategies to start selling third-party brands online should be forgotten, at least for now. They are periphery and to be brutally honest New Look should be delivering versions of key branded looks with its own labels sewn into the neck - that is the philosophy Tom Singh built the business on.
International remains a sticking point. The perception of the chain overseas is different to its positioning here, posing all sorts of challenges for the buying, merchandising and design teams. Its handwriting remains UK-centric. Only once the UK is fixed will it be time to revisit how best to teleport the concept overseas and get it rubbing shoulders with the giant successes of Inditex and H&M.
Meanwhile, bunging 99p onto all of its prices came as a bit of a shock. Shoppers are unbelievably value-for-money aware to the penny and by garment in today’s climate. Other retailers managed the inevitable price rises line by line, even reducing prices of some basics to win over shoppers. It was arrogant to think the New Look shopper didn’t deserve the same.