Mike Ashley House of Fraser Harrods of the high street

Mike Ashley is a retail predator. Much like a lion watching his prey out on the savannah, he waits until the wildebeest looks weak and separated from the herd and then bides his time. Pouncing only when it suits him and he’s certain of a tasty and easy meal.

This week he pounced and was rewarded with House of Fraser for £90m. He already had a 11% stake in HOF, bought in 2014, so he had an interest. 

Left - Harrods of the High-Street?

This price was drastically down from the £480m the Chinese owners, Sanpower, paid for it. The brand is weak and damaged, but not dead, but it will need investment in order to survive. They didn’t seem to have a strategy and they didn’t define why you would go to House of Fraser over another store. 

Ashley needs to work on making it clear why you’d return to House of Fraser. While John Lewis is offers mostly necessity, and can be bought online, Ashley would be better at targeting ‘treats’, relating to fashion and dressing up to seduce a higher spending customer to leave the house. 

This needs to be the store for birthdays, for Christmas, for anniversaries, or anything that requires fancy packaging and that feel good, swinging bag feeling. Fewer visits, but more money out of people’s pockets. At the moment the nicest thing they sell is a Mulberry handbag, but they need more excitement to keep people interested.

Promising to turn the struggling chain into “the Harrods of the high street”, could be Ashley’s flippant words, but if he focuses on that idea, he could be onto something. You don’t go to Harrods for the mundane or ordinary. Admittedly, the prices will have to be different, but you can still package everything nicely and tie-in exclusive product and brands.

Reading about his ‘elevation’ and expansion plans for his other brands, recently, what’s left of House of Fraser will be in prime locations such as Bluewater, Westfield White City and Glasgow, if he decides to stick to closing the other 31 struggling stores, and would fit nicely into this expansion plan. He could easily use his premium Flannels brands to insert much higher end product, something House of Fraser always aspired to be, but never quite got there.

He’s realised that it’s important to have product and brands for each level of customer. The bargain end is fickle and requires huge volumes, while the growth in luxury brands offers lower volumes, but much higher profits. Flannels is expanding rapidly and this acquisition will help create a larger scale.

Flannels is opening new stores at Glasgow Fort shopping centre, Hull and Leicester as part of its ongoing expansion drive. The retailer announced, recently, it expects to open between 6 and 12 new Flannels stores before its financial year end next April 2019. In its premium lifestyle division, Sports Direct currently operates 21 Flannels stores, 10 Cruise stores and three Van Mildert stores, so its premium designer business is really growing. Even Oxford Street is getting a Flannels next year.

He could introduce his underwear brand, Agent Provocateur, into HOF stores and work on their strong existing brands like Biba.

It’s inevitable, if Debenhams continues to struggle, that he’ll merge the two, already owning 29.7% of Debenhams. He’s probably waiting for his moment to strike on this one too and get it at a knocked down price. The high street will plateau soon and even go back into a growth mode and, if in the right locations, in the right cities, House of Fraser will be smaller, but much stronger. 

Friday, 10 August 2018 13:12

ChicGeek Comment Pricing Transparency

Pricing Transparency Priavte White VC explaining fashion mark ups

Why do things cost what they do? This is a question few ask when items are cheap, but, move up the pricing scale, and we feel like we need some explanation. Many brands cite the ‘luxurious’ materials and use the ‘made in…’ tags, and, think that is sufficient to justify higher and higher prices. But, some brands are going a lot further and not just explaining, but dissecting their costs and offering ‘Pricing Transparency’.

Left - Private White V.C. - Ventile Raincoat - £495

One of the pioneers is Manchester’s Private White V.C., known for its selection of premium outerwear. Made in ‘Cottonopolis’, Private White V.C.’s product isn’t cheap and they feel the need to tell you why. Calling it their ‘Pricing Manifesto’, it sets out how many minutes each garment takes to make and even down to how much thread is used.

Pricing Transparency Priavte White VC explaining fashion mark ups

Co-Founder and CEO, James Eden, says, “With the advent of the internet there is so much access to information now. It’s at the tips of people’s fingers and customers are more inquisitive and curious about how and where things are made. Country of origin has become county of origin and, now, factory of origin. People are interested in who makes their Private White V.C. coat, and for many years we have celebrated our workforce and their craft. The next step is to show people, our customer exactly how much that craftmanship is worth in pounds and pence.”

Certain brands are expensive because they can’t make their products any cheaper. They want to prove they’re not being greedy by taking huge mark-ups and margins, and that their goods are worth paying the price for.

Right - Explaining what goes into your Private White raincoat

“As a brand the most important thing is retaining, fostering and maximising the trust and confidence of our customers. This is done by offering great products, tremendous customer service and being honest and transparent in our approach – there is no room for smoke and mirrors!

“Our customers know they are not being misled or charged what we would consider to be an unfair price for a product. The economics of a direct to consumer business means it is far more contemporary and a much leaner model; and we think those benefits should be passed onto the customer.” says Eden.

This is a reaction against wholesaling and discounting too, which has become tougher and tougher for smaller manufacturers and brands. Private White V.C. is at that point where the brand is recognised and can, therefore, pull back on wholesale and take it direct to consumers. Smaller brands, like pilot fish with a whale, need a vehicle to be presented to people, particularly online.

“So far I am happy to say the response has been extremely positive. We all acknowledge it is a bold move, but we think it is essential for businesses, like ours, in such a crowded market place, to differentiate ourselves first and foremost by quality, but also in our philosophy which champions: transparency of sourcing and price transparency. 

“We are striving for a full price policy, so there are no inflated prices prior to an ad-hoc sale for example;  I just don’t think this is sustainable. It is very much educating the customer to never to pay full price. There is so much investment in the quality of our people, the materials and the process, we want our prices to properly reflect that - we want our customers to know that we have made this fair and correct. No discounts or promotions also gives people confidence that the product that they buy today will be sold for the same price in 6 months’ time.” he says.

This is fashion’s reaction to field to fork labelling. Many supermarkets, now, tell you the name of the farmer or even the number of the animal. It’s about traceability and re-educating the consumer into buying better and feeling good about paying more.

Private White V.C. has the luxury of owning its factory and not making anything anywhere else and you're not paying for a 'name'. It’s a simple formula.

Alessandro Agazzi, fashion business expert and blogger at www.thestyleism.com says, “I think it's a smart move. People/consumers want to know more about what they are buying. And with that, many people are like ‘look how good they are, they show want to show us that they are very fair’”.

“They are not the first ones to do it. Again, I think their move is to create a stronger engagement with existing and new clients. You can't compare the costs of a luxury/designer brand to the ones of a manufacturer. But, yes, people are more and more price-conscious and this is a fact.” says Agazzi.

“I think this is mainly a marketing thing from them; and their consumers seem to like it - from the comments on their IG feed. I’m not sure others will follow. It is a delicate move to do it. I asked Private White a couple of questions, the answers were very polite, but, again I am not too convinced how they calculate the costs of the garment. They have not considered costs that they're bearing - retail, logisitcs, PR, photography. And their 2x is even lower when you deduct the VAT from the SRP.” he says.

It’s important to be fair, but it’s also important to make a healthy profit. If you’re working on very small margins it doesn’t take much to tip the whole thing over. I think the majority of people outside of the fashion business don’t know the typical mark-ups on luxury goods and it's often a closely guarded secret.

Will other British brands following suit? I asked, Alice Made This, a British jewellery company specialising in artisan techniques and precious metals, their thoughts.

“Private White V.C. are fortunate, in this instance, that they are a factory and a retailer in terms of transparency. This allows them to disclose costs and stick to prices to allow these stats to remain true for a long period of time. We use a variety of British factories and, for us, to disclose our factories prices in such a granular way may be a breach of their confidential information. Our pricing varies per batch as metal prices fluctuate daily and our factories have to pass these onto us as their customer.” says Alice Walsh, Co-Founder, Alice Made This.

“I think it is interesting, but difficult for us to be accurate, therefore I feel it becomes not as transparent as it may appear! I believe customers expect honesty, integrity and transparency. This can be offered to them in a number of ways.” she says.

There is an element of marketing here and you don't get exact figures, but I also think the attitude is, why not try it? In this fast changing retail landscape you want to shout about your product and this is a way of standing behind it. It builds trust and creates an honest halo over the brand. ‘Pricing Transparency’ only works if you have nothing to hide. Very few brands can do this, but, the ones that can, should.

Below - Private White V.C. comparing its model and 'Traditional Luxury'

 

Pricing Transparency Priavte White VC explaining fashion mark ups

Monday, 06 August 2018 09:29

Style Icons The Chuckle Brothers

Men's style icons Chuckle Brothers

When news came through regarding the death of Barry Chuckle, yesterday, a little piece of our childhoods died. Rotherham’s finest, Barry sadly passed away at 73 leaving his brother Paul to keep the Chuckle Brothers' legacy alive.

Left - Barry & Paul pioneering 'PrEPpy Style' - Read more here

Men's style icons Chuckle BrothersThe comical pair were a stalwart of children’s television during the 80s and 90s, entertaining us even though we were never quite sure what was going on. But, nobody really cared and everybody was too British to ask.

Right - Barry with his A-list celeb pal, Jay Z

In the style stakes, Barry & Paul, pioneered the tache and mullet combo. They were on the bad-fashion, Balenciaga moodboard way before it was cool and even made friends with some of the biggest A-list celebrities. From me, to you, Jay Z?

Add a few Céline-esque laundry bags and a Gucci style granny headscarf - see more here - and you have some timeless British style icons. Now, that’s what you call ‘Chucklevision’!

Below - Céline? & Babushka Chic?

Men's style icons Chuckle Brothers

Men's style icons Chuckle Brothers

Friday, 03 August 2018 16:13

First Look Tom Ford Underwear

Tom Ford Underwear

Tom Ford is a clever man. Starting with two of the highest margins categories in fashion - eyewear & beauty - he founded his eponymous company. Fast forward 13 years and he’s developed money-maker after money-maker. Suits, followed by trainers and then jeans, all added to his ballooning business. 

Left - Tom Ford debuted his new underwear range during his February AW18 catwalk show in New York

The last big fashion category untouched by the Texan’s magic was underwear. But, no more. 

What debuted in his show in February catwalk show in New York was a bit underwhelming. Think Yeezy uncooked sausage coloured trunks; a world away from the sexy, see-through briefs Ford produced when at the helm of Gucci. Calvin Klein could still sleep easy at night, or so I thought. But, looking at the news from British GQ, it looks like they’re more standard tighty-whities, albeit with a velvet waistband. They’re also cheaper than I thought at £55. (I know, it's still a lot for a pair of white pants).

For a man who famously dresses commando, the big question is, will be practise what he preaches?

Below - Briefs by Tom Ford - £55

Tom Ford Underwear

Tuesday, 31 July 2018 16:16

ChicGeek Comment The Rise of Sliders

The rise of the sliders footwear category

It wasn’t so long ago a ‘slider’ was something containing pulled pork and came in a mini brioche bun. Today, it’s one of the biggest categories in casual footwear.

It was our obsession with everything sportswear and retro that saw the return of Adidas’ ‘Adilette Slides’ which, arguably, started the whole mainstream trend. Teamed with white sports socks it became the default cool and comfortable warm weather shoe for fashionable geeks.

Slydes - 'Flint' AW18 - £25 

Fast forward a couple of summers and ‘Sliders’ has become a footwear category in its own right. Much more ‘on-brand’ than flip-flops, luxury brands have piled into the market attracted by the volumes and margins. This is their cool entry shoe and shows no signs of going anywhere and will, no doubt, be one of their biggest selling footwear categories this year.

“I love how fashion works in mysterious ways and the pool slide is a great example - five years ago it would have been a faux-pas and, now, it’s a must have summer shoe, trending globally. Since this humble shoe’s luxury makeover, at the hands of brands such as Bottega Veneta, Gucci and Prada to name a few, it has grown in popularity becoming a style to not only wear on holiday, but in everyday city life too. It’s also been a great platform for brands embracing the logo mania trend to position their logo.” says David Morris, Senior Shoes Buyer at MR PORTER.

The rise of the sliders footwear category Balenciaga leather sliders

Ben Carr, Buyer at MATCHESFASHION.COM, says, “Sliders can be a great way to buy into a designer brand because of their competitive price point and with celebrities like A$AP Rocky and Justin Bieber often wearing these styles we’ve definitely noticed an uplift in their popularity.”

“Sliders and sandals have become one of our biggest growth areas, the biggest fashion houses have made it their focus on runways and within their collections. Prada champion the sandal and have reintroduced a range of sliders. The competitive price point enables increased accessibility for a wider audience.” says Carr.

Right - Balenciaga - Logo-debossed Leather Slides - £435 from matchesfashion.com

The slider is the cheapest shoe for many luxury brands. The margin on a pair of £435 Balenciaga logo-embossed leather slides would be significant. That’s an understatement, I know. Just imagine how many £225 sliders Gucci has sold this summer to the Love Island wannabes. This is big business.

On the more affordable spectrum, and founded in 2014,  the footwear brand ‘Slydes’ specialises in, well, slides. Brand Owner, Juls Dawson, says, “Four years ago the founders spotted the trend as to was coming up over the horizon and jumped all over it. The rest, they say is history.”

He won’t reveal how many pairs of £16 sliders he is, now, selling, but says, “we can say sales are doubling year on year.”

Dawson highlights the versatility of the slider for its growth and popularity. “They are so versatile, worn from gym to pool and from beach to club, spanning not just most age groups and demographics, but the globe. They have been embraced across all genres of music, Influencers, clubbers, Millennials, keep fit fanatics, to name but a few,” he says.

The slider is part of the dominant sportswear trend and, of all the summer styles, the flip flop has probably taken the biggest hit from the slider. The slicker slider has managed to upstage the flimsy flip flop, which still looks somewhat underdressed, dirty and cheap.

“The flip flop, albeit a classic open toed sandal doesn’t have the scale of a slider. Limited to a narrow thong and a thin rubber outsole, where as the slider’s outsole can be raised, coloured, embellished and re-designed the upper of a slider. By its very definition, as long as you can slide you foot, it’s a slider, and, you can do pretty much anything with the silhouette.” says Dawson.

You also can’t wear flip flops with socks. So, what’s the future for the slider category?

“Every trend will reach a peak at some point, but Slydes have the capacity to move on and evolve as the uppers are like a blank canvas to add embellishment, print, texture, grahics, logos, materials…the possibilities are endless.” says Dawson.

“I think it will be less branded and graphic, moving into a more simple design. The rise of the logo focussed collections is down trending and we can see it already starting with footwear.” says Carr.

The slider looks set to become more subtle and lowkey. One brand introducing sliders for the first time is Grenson, which featured a couple of styles in their latest SS19 collection.

“I love looking at styles that are ‘on-trend’ and seeing if I can do a Grenson version, that makes sense. This was a challenge as most sliders are rubber with huge logos, but I found a way to do a leather version.” says Tim Little, Creative Director and Owner, Grenson.

“People needed a replacement for the flip flop for the summer, but also the ugly shoe trend made the slider the perfect choice. Added to that, of course, is comfort and convenience.” he says.

The rise of the sliders footwear category Tom Ford Churchill

Explaining the attraction to many premium footwear brands, Little, says, “The flip flop is very basic and cheaply made, whereas the slider allows more opportunity to create a crafted version. I can’t see us doing a flip flop as there isn’t much that we can bring to the party.”

While the slider is still cool, it’s grown to a size which makes it bigger than a fashion trend. The slider category will continue to grow and become more permanent as more and more people buy and wear them. Attracted by the branding, comfort and the infinite designs and finishes, the slider category will continue to see more brands enter the market. Much like the designer trainer trend before it, we’ll see more brands put their own DNA onto this simple shoe and happily price it to match. Even Tom Ford has done a dressy velvet pair named ‘Churchill’.

Left - Tom Ford - Churchill Chain Trimmed Velvet Slides - £370 from MRPORTER.COM

The rise of the sliders footwear category Grenson

David Morris, from MRPORTER says,  “Slides have never been as relevant as they are now, especially as we’ve seen a shift in the market as men continue to embrace casualwear and sportswear as part of their everyday wardrobe. Luxury brands such as Prada and Balenciaga have seamlessly incorporated luxury slides into their collections giving credibility to the footwear style, so they are now an option to team with the ready-to-wear. This footwear category will continue to dominate over the summer seasons whilst this sportswear trend is still key.” 

Right - Grenson's first sliders for SS19