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Tesco readies F&F for West End assault

Supermarket chain Tesco will ramp up the profile of its clothing offer with a London store.

Tesco has thrown down the gauntlet to value clothing rivals Primark and George at Asda by plotting the opening of a standalone store for its F&F clothing brand in central London.

Tesco, which broke the £1bn clothing sales barrier for the first time in the year to February 27, will be the first supermarket to attempt an opening for its clothing offer in such a high-profile location.

Tesco consultant and former clothing boss Terry Green said: “We’re looking for a store in the West End as a flagship for F&F. It will be a one-off to showcase the brand and complement our online and supermarket offer.”

Tesco has viewed properties in locations in the capital including Oxford Street and Kensington High Street, and wants to secure a site upwards of 6,000 sq ft for the store, which will be branded F&F.

The strategy will place F&F head-to-head with Primark and New Look, which both have flagship stores - at 66,000 sq ft and 26,000 sq ft respectively - at opposite ends of Oxford Street. TK Maxx is also set to open a store at 120 Charing Cross Road later this month.

Tesco will be gunning to grab market share from its rivals with the opening which will aim to boost awareness with shoppers. Tesco came joint fifth in the market share rankings in 2009 behind Primark, George, TK Maxx and New Look, to command a 10.4% slice of the £9.3bn value clothing sector, according to Verdict Research.

The supermarket chain will have taken lessons from the ill-fated attempt by grocer Asda to roll out standalone stores for its George offer, which Asda was forced to close in 2008 after it failed to deliver sufficient returns due to the sales volumes needed to cover the high rents in prime city centre locations.

Value retailer Peacocks has also repeatedly shunned a central London store opening, saying the high rents do not justify the brand awareness opportunities and preferring lower-profile locations.

However, one industry source said times have changed with the barnstorming success of value retailers such as Primark during the downturn. He said: “Primark has proven, if anyone had doubts, that there’s a place for value in prime locations in the UK. I think a supermarket clothing brand, be that George or Tu or F&F, could do well now in prime high street locations. The idea is a lot less controversial than it would have been five years ago because of what Primark has achieved.”

However, he added: “That said, I’m not sure F&F as a brand is as strong as it needs to be to survive in the West End. It’s a fairly small brand and would probably need to expand the range to make it compelling. It’s one of the weakest brands and it will find it harder than Tu or George would.”

Verdict Research senior retail analyst Maureen Hinton said: “If Tesco can get the look and feel right in a standalone store, then it could be a good way of building brand awareness. This look and feel would then need to be translated into the supermarkets too though, so there is not a discrepancy between the flagship store and the other offers.”

She said the move differed from Asda’s attempt to roll out stores for George, as Tesco is set to open just one store. “The Tesco shop seems like it will be all about the brand. Asda wanted to roll out George like a high street fashion chain but it just didn’t get the footfall and as a price-led retailer, you need to shift high volumes to make high streets work.”

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