New boss to distance chain from ‘hoodie’ labels by refreshing brand mix.
Speaking exclusively to Drapers, former TK Maxx boss Sweetenham said the Republic identity had become “diluted” and needed to be redefined and strengthened by introducing new brands, both own label and third-party, as well as exclusive ranges. He said he wanted to avoid “hoodie” brands.
“The challenge is [keeping] the offer relevant and refreshing so it doesn’t become jaded or overly linked with one brand. We’ve had the famous rise and fall of a number of hoodie-generated street brands and I think it’s wise to steer clear of overinvesting in that type of thing because when it goes down, you go down,” he said, adding that Republic was not looking to compete in the sportswear arena.
“This business has got a lot of internal brands now which JD and Sports Direct don’t have. I would say it’s got better fashion credentials than JD, and it’s not so street, so I wouldn’t put it in that frame.
“I think things are polarised with either the Abercrombie and Hollister single-label brands or Superdry, and they are perhaps overpopulated in the sport side with Nike and Adidas Originals. I think the middle ground is really only offered by people like River Island or, if there is a more comparable business, it is probably what Asos is doing.”
Sweetenham officially takes the helm at Republic on Monday (March 12) and said he would spend some time “familiarising himself with the Republic story” before agreeing a detailed strategy.
“Republic has been one of the retail success stories in the UK and has grown from a fledgling business to £200m. I need to understand that growth story in order to determine chapter two,” said Sweetenham.
“The key challenge is to have a unique identity, or if not unique, then to have a reputation for a specific part of the market.”
He confirmed that growing the 121-store UK bricks-and-mortar estate was a priority.
“There are many opportunities for Republic to grow retail space, not least in London. We are one of the rare retailers where I think of every store as being well selected,” he said, adding that agreeing a multichannel strategy would be the key factor to deciding eventual store numbers. “The use of mobile devices has far exceeded laptops and that has generated a desire for new and fresh. As a retailer, you have to excel at that particular aspect.”
He added that he would be bolstering the buying, design and merchandising teams to make the retailer best in class. He said: “I want Republic to be first choice for the 15 to 25-year-old customer for buying great value fashion product – I don’t think there is anything revolutionary about what we want to do. Republic is a great name. It doesn’t have any downside to it.”
Sweetenham, who left his role as senior executive president of TK Maxx’s European business in January, joins Republic after founders Tim Whitworth and Carl Brewins both decided to step back from the day-to-day running of the business. Chief operating officer Guy Critchlow exited the retailer in November.