From Birmingham’s evolving retail scene to the sale of BHS, the Yoox/Net-a-Porter merger to Primark’s US debut, 2015 has certainly been a year of surprises.
Two words defined the winning Christmas 2014 strategies – full price. This was revealed in January when the refusal to discount netted Jigsaw a ”record” Christmas, pushing like-for-like sales up 10% for the five weeks to January 3, while White Stuff saw sales surge 17.9% during the same period.
For some retailers though, the Christmas sparkle faded quickly in January. After falling into administration young fashion chain USC was sold to fellow Sports Direct fascia Republic, making 200 warehouse employees redundant and leading to a number of store closures in the subsequent months.
A similar fate awaited struggling JD Sports Fashion chain Bank, which also slid into administration. JD Sports Fashion then also pulled the plug on menswear fascia Open, closing 11 stores nationwide in a bid to prioritise its core sports businesses JD and Size?.
Later in the month troubled German tradeshow Bread & Butter announced a return to its traditional Tempelhof Airport location for its July edition, despite claims brands were owed “thousands of pounds” in deposits paid for the cancelled autumn 15 show.
Elsewhere Tesco announced the closure of 43 unprofitable UK stores and the relocation of its headquarters to Welwyn Garden City. The move was expected to save the embattled supermarket £250m, much needed in the wake of last year’s accounting scandal.
The problems for Sports Direct’s USC rumbled on into February as news broke that founder Mike Ashley faced a parliamentary investigation into his treatment of 200 former USC warehouse workers who lost their jobs with no financial compensation and little warning. It also emerged brands stocked by USC, including Converse and Bestseller, were owed a total of £14.3m following the collapsed chain’s buyout by Republic.
February was also a month of high profile people moves. Asos.com womenswear design director Jacqui Markham re-joined Topshop in the newly created role of global design director after a two year hiatus. Monsoon Accessorize promoted finance director Paul Allen to interim chief executive after John Browett stepped down to pursue other opportunities.
Likewise it was all change at House of Fraser, where chief operating officer Nigel Oddy succeeded John King to become chief executive.
This month also saw the launch of Shop Direct’s new luxury website VeryExclusive.co.uk, led by managing director Sarah Curran, which stocks more than 150 brands including Marc by Marc Jacobs and Vivienne Westwood Anglomania.
March was the month of the headline-grabbing BHS sale, the Yoox/Net-a-Porter merger and the #dress. On March 12, Arcadia boss Sir Philip Green sold the BHS Group for £1 to Retail Acquisitions. A relatively unknown company, Retail Acquisitions was set up in 2014 by director Stephen Charles Bourne, director Dominic Chappell, solicitor Mark Tasker, solicitor Edward Parladorio and company director Lennart David Henningson, specifically to make acquisitions in the UK retail space.
In an attempt to steady the ship chief operating officer Darren Topp was appointed interim chief executive, replacing Richard Price who moved to head up F&F at Tesco.
From value to luxury, Net-a-Porter signed a massive merger deal with Italian etail rival Yoox to create a €1.3bn (£940m) company. Led by Yoox founder Federico Marchetti and Net-a-Porter founder Natalie Massenet, the deal to form Yoox Net-a-Porter Group was aimed at enabling both to pool resources to better capitalise on the rapidly growing online luxury market.
March was also a momentous month for womenswear brand Roman Originals, which found itself at the centre of a social media storm after a picture went viral of one of its dresses which some people saw as white and gold, but was actually black and blue. The debate drove sales up by 560% in a single day and secured the brand huge media attention, rapidly escalating its profile.
It was all change in April as several retailers re-jigged their top teams. Jacques Vert Group chief executive Teresa Tideman stepped down after two years in the role during which time she had led a turnaround of the business. She was replaced by interim transformation director Tim Davies.
At Coast, merchandising director Andrew Skinner was promoted to managing director as part of a restructure that saw the departure of buying director Andrea Hickman, digital director Jess Shepherd and HR director Lisa Bedford, alongside 14 other redundancies.
Meanwhile at John Lewis womenswear buyer Jo Bennett was promoted to head of buying for womenswear and Camilla Rowe became head of women’s accessories as part of a wider department restructure under fashion and beauty buying director, Ed Connolly.
There was then trouble at the top for former Harrods chief merchant Marigay McKee who left New York department store Saks Fifth Avenue after just 15 months as president because the “the fit wasn’t perfect”.
April also saw the long-awaited and high-profile launch to pre-registered shoppers of Marks & Spencer’s £199 suede skirt, part of its spring 16 collection. The retailer had to increase the number of skirts it provided by five-fold to satisfy the thousands-strong waiting list.
Elsewhere in the ecommerce world, Shop Direct won big at the Drapers Digital Awards 2015, scooping prizes for Best Pure-play Etailer and the Overall Award for Excellence for its Very.co.uk website.
Acquisitions aplenty characterised May, alongside the election of a majority Conservative government which later went on to exert its considerable influence over the retail industry for the rest of the year.
South African billionaire Christo Wiese took his first step towards UK high street domination by purchasing a 90% stake in New Look, in a deal valuing the company at £1.9bn. The retailer’s founder Tom Singh, his family and the current management reinvested to acquire the remaining 10%.
Independent etail portal Farfetch also acquired London designer boutique Browns for an undisclosed amount, appointing former Net-a-Porter fashion director Holli Rogers as chief executive.
Meanwhile US-based fashion chain Urban Outfitters pursued a fresh direction, poaching Topshop buying director Emma Wisden to head up its European business as managing director. All was not rosy at Jack Wills, however, as news emerged that 15 directors, heads of departments and managers had left the business over the past eight months amid concerns over the direction of the preppy young fashion retailer.
California, Shanghai and now London, Nike opened its first European women’s store in May, boasting a range of bespoke services including gait analysis and bra fitting.
Dune continued its winning ways, scooping Multiple of the Year for the second year running at the Drapers Footwear Awards 2015. Ted Baker also won big, picking up the awards for Men’s Fashion Brand and International Business of the Year.
The month was less bright for Marks & Spencer, which admitted overstating its online sales by £500m over the past four years after having failed to take into account goods returned to stores.
In the same month womenswear chain East was forced to close 19 stores and five concessions, axing 155 jobs as part of a pre-pack administration deal. The slimed down company announced it would continue to operate 82 stores and concessions, alongside its website.
Contrasting fortunes were seen at over 50s retailer Bonmarché, which posted a 55% increase in pre-tax profits to £12.4m for the year to March 28, following “enhancements to product ranges and prices”. Gains were also made at Net-a-Porter, which announced it had netted record revenue of £654m for the year to March 31.
June was also the month German fashion etailer Zalando stated its intention to acquire Berlin trade show Bread & Butter, which had filed for insolvency in December 2014.
With July came the announcement of a new national living wage of £7.20 would come into effect from April 2016, increasing to £9 by 2020, with independent retailers voicing concerns they may have to cut jobs or hours as a result.
News broke that after almost 30 years, executive director for general merchandise John Dixon would be leaving Marks & Spencer with immediate effect, to be replaced by executive director for food Steve Rowe.
It was a busy month for former Asda boss Andy Bond, ex-Tu chief Adrian Mountford and Christo Wiese who launched the first store for their new value chain Pep&Co in Kettering, the first of 50 openings in 50 days.
From Kettering to retail hotspot Birmingham, where Harvey Nichols unveiled its much-admired new look 45,000 sq ft store in The Mailbox in July.
The shopping frenzy continued on Amazon, with shoppers buying 398 items a second on the inaugural Amazon Prime Day Sales event (July 15). This month also saw the launch of Apple Pay, a contactless mobile payment service with backing from 15 fashion retailers including Liberty, M&S and H&M.
July was less sunny for US firm Oxford Industries, which cited weaker performance in recent quarters as the reason for selling Ben Sherman for £40.8m to New York-based retail group Marquee Brands.
July also proved a trying time for the N Brown Group, which opened a voluntary redundancy programme for all 3,000 staff at womenswear business JD Williams.
The full force of China’s currency devaluation in July was felt by UK retailers when £70bn was wiped off the value of Britain’s top companies on August 24, as fears grew over the state of the Chinese economy. Luxury brands were worst hit, such as Burberry which attributed a 7.3% drop in profits to the challenging Chinese retail environment.
The rise of contactless payments was also noted, with Barclaycard announcing nationwide contactless spending had climbed 150% in 2015, as the number of transactions rose 134%.
Suppliers then blasted Arcadia’s “appalling” demands for an additional 2% discount on all orders, criticising the group for squeezing their margins while continuing to invest more than £100m in its own head office and logistics.
Following Marquee Brands’ acquisition of Ben Sherman in July, the brand’s chief executive Mark Maidment left the business after 13 years, while under Steve Rowe’s command M&S womenswear director Frances Russell departed, as lingerie and beauty director Jo Jenkins’ extended her remit to womenswear. Two years after he stepped aside, Jack Wills’ founder Peter Williams also resumed his role as chief executive of the preppy brand as part of a wider strategy to drive growth.
August was also the month Sainsbury’s rolled out its Tu clothing transactional website nationwide following a successful regional pilot scheme, putting the value fashion brand in a stronger position versus rivals George at Asda and Tesco’s F&F.
This month created big shockwaves for the world of ecommerce, opening with the shock announcement that Asos.com founder and chief executive Nick Robertson had stepped down, to be succeeded by chief operating officer Nick Beighton. Just a day later Net-a-Porter founder Natalie Massenet then resigned as executive chairman, following the Yoox merger back in March.
No sooner had the dust settled then it emerged Karen Millen chief executive Mike Shearwood had left the business after eight years, due to plans for a management buyout being scrapped. But the heads continued to roll. Partway through a five-year turnaround strategy, Jaeger chief executive Colin Henry exited before the Christmas trading period. Poor trading was then blamed for the surprise exit of Clarks chief executive Melissa Potter and chief financial officer Robin Beacham, after a collective 36 years at the business.
On a more positive note, former M&S head of general merchandise John Dixon resurfaced, confirming his move to chief executive of Australian department store chain David Jones.
News then broke that Sports Direct had bought a 25% share in Four Marketing, in a deal valuing the brand agency at £35m, while Primark made its grand US debut with the opening of a 77,300 sq ft store in Boston, Massachusetts.
In the world of department stores, John Lewis also unveiled its new 250,000 sq ft full-line shop at Birmingham’s Grand Central, as Debenhams fought off a boardroom coup spearheaded by top investor, Indian retail billionaire Mukesh Jagtiani, who was pushing for a management shake-up.
One month later and Debenhams chief executive Michael Sharp announced he would be leaving the struggling department store group in 2016 once a replacement had been found, fuelling an air of intrigue across the industry about the retailer’s future direction.
For Shop Direct the future was more clear cut as the business reported a 78% surge in full year profit to £71.7m in the year to June 30, a third consecutive year of record results.
Just when Sports Direct thought its USC problems from earlier in the year had disappeared, chief executive Dave Forsey was charged with a criminal offence relating to the young fashion chain’s controversial pre-pack administration. Sports Direct was accused of removing stock from USC’s Ayrshire warehouse a week before appointing administrators, giving warehouse staff just 15 minutes’ notice of redundancies. Forsey has denied the charges.
There were also movements in the womenswear world, as chief executive Kate Bostock stepped down after two years at Coast, prompting managing director Andrew Skinner taking up the reigns, while French Connection appointed former Gap vice president of global design Maria Chen as womenswear director, in a bid to stem widening losses.
Hoping to stimulate its fluctuating fashion sales, Marks & Spencer took the innovative step of launching the new Sparks loyalty card, designed to reward shoppers with points when they shop, write a review or engage on social media.
October also saw Arcadia’s Dorothy Perkins, Burton and Evans open concessions in Tesco Extra stores in Greater Manchester and Cardiff, as part of a wider five-store trial.
Black Friday (November 27) and Cyber Monday (November 30) were the two days that defined November 2015. Online shopping grew 16% year on year during Black Friday, and 12% on Cyber Monday, with UK shoppers spending £3.3bn online over the whole Black Friday Weekend. While online surged, offline suffered. High street and shopping centre footfall fell 5% and 2.7%, respectively.
Beyond Black Friday, Office was sold to South African fashion retailer Truworths International for £256m, demonstrating the level of interest by South African businesses in the UK retail market as they seek overseas investments.
The 25th anniversary Drapers Awards 2015 also proved to be a great night for New Look, which won Fashion Retail Business of the Year (over £500m turnover). Oasis received the same honour in the £101m-£200m turnover category, while Ted Baker triumphed in the £201m-£500m bracket. F&F scooped two awards for Best International Retailer and the CSR award, while the Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to Matalan founder John Hargreaves.
November was also good for AllSaints, which recorded its biggest ever EBITDA of £24.4m for the year ending January 31, up 41% on the previous year. In the same month news broke that Hunter chief executive James Seuss would depart after three years at the business.
Primark chief executive Paul Marchant knocked Mike Ashley off the highly-coveted top spot in Drapers’ Top 100 Power List 2015. Aside from dominating the UK value sector, Marchant masterminded the opening of Primark’s first US stores in Boston and Pennsylvania. With sales up 13% in the year to September 12 and 20 new stores adding 1m sq ft to its retail portfolio in 2015, Marchant has a lot to smile about.
This is also the month that Jaeger reported a pre-tax loss of £7.9m for the year ending February 28, despite sales rising 6% to £84.2m. The news came a week after it was revealed Jaeger’s private equity owner Better Capital had ploughed £10m into the chain between May and October.
There were also movements at LK Bennett, as retail director Manuela Carniello exited the business where she started out 18 years ago as a sales assistant.
Then came the news that British yarn spinner English Fine Cottons is to create 100 jobs through the £5.8m regeneration of a former Victorian cotton mill in Greater Manchester, installing new technology to create luxury yarn.