If the headlines were to be believed you’d think the high-street was in terminal decline and everybody was withdrawing at the speed of knots. Store closures across the board and brands shrinking to survive, it’s armageddon on the high-street, they scream!
The retail market has always seen brands or chains crash and burn over the years. It’s part of the retail renewal cycle and allows others to appear and grow.
Left - River Island's new expanded store at Milton Keynes' Centre:MK
"As consumers, we are becoming more and more demanding, each new level of service experienced serves to simply raise the bar even higher. In the UK in February 2018 online accounted for 17.2% of total sales (source ONS). Whilst this is still increasing (15.6% in February 2017) it is still a relatively small proportion of total sales meaning that over 80% is from the high-street. So, it is clear that the high-street is far from dead but it is evolving at a rapid rate - Darwinism on the high-street if you like, where the process of evolution naturally culls the weak whilst the strong prosper and survive,” says Andrew Busby, Founder & CEO Retail Reflections.
Continuing to grow, online retail sales leapt to 18.8% last month - April 2018 - and it won’t be long before it hits 20% and maybe even 30%. For the offline retail optimist, though, it means 80% is left for the taking offline in physical stores.
But, while the focus has been on chains closing stores - M&S announced 100 stores closing by 2022 - there are a few strong and growing brands stealthily tightening their hold and grip on the high-street. The focus is on bigger and better stores in premium locations: less stores but better.
As brands vacate premium sites other brands can cherry-pick and expand into the gaps, but only in the top tier of shopping centres and cities.
For example, both Zara and River Island are carrying out major expansions of their stores at Intu Lakeside. River Island will be doubling the size of its store to 21,000 sq ft while Zara will treble its store size to 35,000 sq ft making the stores among the largest in the retailers’ portfolios. They are the latest retailers to invest in flagship stores at Intu Lakeside since H&M doubled the size of its store to 36,000 sq ft and Next opened an expanded 70,000 sq ft store in Spring 2017.
When Banana Republic vacated Westfield White City, Zara took the opportunity to create the biggest branch in the UK. River Island recently doubled the size of its store in Centre:MK in Milton Keynes. The retailer doubled its existing unit to 20,000 sq ft to accommodate the brand’s full range of womenswear, menswear and children’s fashion ranges.
Nick Tahir, River Island, Head of Menswear Buying says, “We have over 280 stores in the UK. In an increasingly competitive high street, it is important to keep River Island stores looking fresh, relevant and exciting. With 30 years heritage, naturally some stores will require a makeover and in some towns/cities and that has been a key focus for us, we have also been increasing our square footage, to accommodate the needs of our customer and our growing divisions (for example we launched RI Kids and RI Mini only a couple of years back and the demand is consistently growing).”
“Although retailers are seeing an impact on bricks and mortar due to mobile and online, retail is still the biggest mix of sales for us. With our heritage, stores will always play an important role. They are the heartbeat of the River Island. The challenge for us and our peers in the industry, is to keep our customers coming back again and again. We do this by enhancing their shopping experience – whether that’s through pop-ups and exclusive events, or through offering something that our customers can’t find with some of our competitors; take Style Studio for example, our complimentary Personal Shopping service. It is vital for us to keep revamping and improving our store aesthetic to draw footfall, creating theatre through VM and windows and of course constantly refreshing our product offering to stay relevant and exciting.” says Tahir.
As stores grow larger at key shopping hot spots, retailers can give fewer locations more attention and fine tune, update and invest in those locations. But, what this will also mean is many towns will lose their well known names and become secondary as the money is sucked into fewer, bigger places.
“Most retailers with a large store estate have too much space so what we're also seeing (landlord rent restrictions aside) is an expected re-sizing and in some cases re-purposing of space eg. Debenhams considering renting out space to WeWork.” says Busby.
“All this means that the stores which survive will need to be far better than those we currently experience. For example, the poor quality of the Toys R Us stores was a major factor in it collapsing into administration.” he says.
“But the fascinating dynamic is that quality and customer experience in store is largely dependent upon the particular shopping journey ie. if it's a distressed purchase then the customer just wants to get in, find what they need, pay and leave - as seamlessly as possible. However, if it's for say a luxury item they may well welcome, indeed, seek out engagement and advice; being quite happy to spend far longer. Both journeys will be judged by different criteria. The trick for retailers is to recognise what journey we're on and act accordingly. Facial recognition and AI is going a long way to be able to tell what mood we are in when we enter the store.” says Busby.
Right - Zara's new store at Westfield Stratford
The shopping centre companies know this too. The recently abandoned £3.4bn tie-up between Hammerson and Intu failed, I think, because Hammerson were probably only interested in a handful of their top sites like Manchester’s Trafford Centre. Trying to offload or revive the others would be costly and a distraction and knowing where the market is heading, it knows it’ll probably be able to bid on what it wants individually if Intu starts to wobble in the foreseeable future.
In order to survive it’s going to be about fewer players with less but stronger sites. As more close, it strengthens those which are left. If you believed the newspapers you’d think that every retailer had given up on physical stores, but the clever ones are only getting started. When the growth in online slows or plateaus, these proactive retailers will be positioned to take full advantage of the eventual return to the high-street.
Read more expert ChicGeek Comments - here
If you thought Borg was a 1970s tennis player. you’d be correct, but, it’s also this season’s hottest material. Normcore, dad-chic, basic-bitch, the sources of reference are numerable, but it’s all about the fleeciest of fleeces, this season.
Borg is a type of synthetic plush pile imitation fur fabric commonly used for linings, according to Wikipedia, and the coolest of London designers - Martine Rose, Cottweiler - have been lapping it up.
You can find it at all price points, just look for exaggerated fleeces in dull colours. You could even ask your dad for his old one - very Countryfile. You don’t want to stand out, you want to blend in. Bring on the boring Borg!
Left - Martine Rose SS18
Left - ASOS - Oversized Hoodie In Borg - £30
Left - Topman - Red Check Borg Jacket - £50
Left - Uniqlo - Men Fleece Long Sleeve Full-Zip Jacket - £19.90
Left - River Island - Navy Fleece Hoodie - £32
Left - Napa by Martine Rose - Off-White Tyson Fleece - £275 from brownsfashion.com
Left - Cottweiler - Contrast-Panel Fleece Sweatshirt - £252 from matchesfashion.com
Left - CMMN SWDN - Fleece Track Jacket - £215 from MRPORTER.COM
Left - Albam - Fleece Jacket - £150
Left - Fila Vintage - Retro Teddy Bear Fleece Jacket - £64.99
Left - Tommy Hilfiger - Block Stripe Fleece Jacket - £240
I think we all know how competitive it is at the lower end of the clothing market. But, it was an e-mail, a few weeks ago, from Marks & Spencer that really summed up where we are. It was announcing their new range of men’s ‘Quick Dry Swim Shorts’, all pretty standard for this time of year, but it was the price that caught my eye. A bargain £10! This is cheaper than Topman, cheaper than River Island and even New Look. It’s certainly cheap for M&S and, then, you realise all the retailers are busy racing to the bottom.
What this means is, in order for those companies to make money, they need to shift a hell of a lot of product. British retailers are currently playing a game of poker, holding their hand i.e. keeping prices low, waiting for their competitors to fold.
Left - Pep&Co at Poundland SS17
But, if this game wasn’t tough enough, new competition is entering the market which will only increase pressure on those margins and unsustainable volumes.
For example, Poundland has entered the clothing market. Their in-house brand, Pep&Co, launched into stores in March this year.
They've already opened over 50 Poundland shop-in-shops with another 50 or so planned for the second half of 2017. The chain, which was bought by the South African group Steinhoff International, expects to put Pep&Co clothing outlets in up to 200 of its 850 stores over the longer term.
Pep&Co was founded by Andy Bond, who once ran Asda’s George clothing label, with backing from the South African tycoon and Steinhoff shareholder Christo Wiese.
The first shop opened in Kettering, Northamptonshire, in July 2015 and the chain opened its first 50 stores in less than two months.
If people are wearing Poundland, it means they aren’t wearing another brand. This isn’t about sneering at this end of the market, it’s about wondering who will go out of business first. It's unsustainable.
The market is saturated and these business models only work if you can order huge volumes and shift it fast.
This is new competition for all the supermarket brands plus Peacocks and Primark and traditional high-street retailers like M&S and Debenhams are more keenly pricing their offering. Add discount brands such as TK Maxx and the neverending discounts and sales and you have an environment that is harder to make profit in.
Consumers are being squeezed with higher inflation and low wages and are generally satisfied with cheaper clothes. They can't or don't want to pay more.
Then add the internet, with Boohoo offering bargain fashion-led clothing and websites such as EverythingFivePounds, where everything is, literally, five pounds, and you have the perfect storm to implode some of the giants of the British high-street. Arcadia, the owner of Topman, is already seeing revenues fall and Topman is looking increasingly expensive against the competition.
In this game of pound wars poker, who will run out of chips and fold first?
Left - Louis Vuitton? No, Everythingfivepounds - £5
You can thank me after, but I just may have found the prom outfit to beat all other prom outfits!!!!! Be the king of the prom by taking inspiration from the king, Elvis himself, and Harry Styles with a combination of black and pink. A pink suit with a black shirt, no tie, says 'dressy cool' and is as timeless as rock itself.
The classic 50s colour combo of pink and black brings to mind Teddy Boys and rock 'n' roll. You want a black shirt with black buttons, plain. No contrasting. You can do black trousers if you don't want to buy the whole suit, but add white socks classic penny loafers and you'll be the beau of the ball!
Left - Harry Styles giving good Elvis in an bespoke Edward Sexton suit
Left - River Island - Pink Slim Fit Suit Jacket - £85
Left Below - River Island - Pink Slim Fit Suit Trousers - £40
Below - Hugo - Ebros Stretch Cotton Shirt - £100 from HarveyNichols.com
Left - ASOS - Super Skinny Suit In Mid Pink - £85
Left - Topman - Rose Pink Ultra Skinny Fit Suit - £130
Below - Ted Baker - Rosest Tailored Fit Shirt - £65 from John Lewis
Left - Opposuits - Mr Pink - £64.95
Below - The original, Elvis Presley
Left - Zara - Sartorial Suit Blazer - £99.99, Trousers - £49.99
Left - Zara - Basic Blazer - £39.99
Left - Actor Aidan Alexander at the Billboard Awards
Left - Marks & Spencer - Autograph - Pure Cotton Tailored Fit Shirt - £35
Left - Moss Bros - Moss Esq. - Regular Fit Black Single Cuff Non Iron Shirt - £25
Left - 1950s Cliff Richard
Below - New Look - Deep Pink Suit Jacket - £64.99, Deep Pink Suit Trousers - £29.99
Below - Be the king, this prom season
Put yellow and red together and you don't get orange, but Baywatch. This colour combo always says ‘Lifeguard’, even though on the new film, strangely, they’re using red and blue. Must be a copyright issue!
Anyway, make like Zac and Dwayne down on the beach and go for T-shirts and swim shorts in primary red and yellow. Take the hassle out of Hasselhoff and keep it simple. A strong yellow T-Shirt has always been a difficult one to blend into the wardrobe, but add a red swim short and you get a perfect combo.
Left - An oldie, but a goodie - Original Baywatch
Even if the film’s a load of rubbish, which it probably will be, you can’t get away from the attraction of the sea and surf. Forever and always, I'm always here!
Below - St. Moriz, the no.1 volume self tan brand in the UK, is making a big splash this summer by partnering with the new Baywatch movie which hit screens from 29th May
Left - Orlebar Brown - OB-V - Sunshine Tailored-Fit V-Neck T-Shirt - £65, BULLDOG - Raspberry Mid-Length Swim Shorts - £145
Left - Whistles - Crumple Everyday T-Shirt - £35
Below - Topman - Red Embroidery Swim Shorts - £16
Left - Orlebar Brown SS17
Left - ASOS - Longline Knitted T-Shirt With Curved Hem In Yellow - £18
Below - Thom Browne - Slim-Fit Short-Length Stripe-Trimmed Swim Shorts - £290 from MRPORTER
Below - Topman - Mustard Reality Print T-Shirt - £15
Left - River Island - Yellow Rolled Sleeve Pocket T-Shirt - £8
Left - Patagonia - Nine Trails Jersey T-Shirt - £35 from MRPORTER
Below - Speedo - Solid Leisure 16” Swim Shorts - £15]
Jeans are in flux. Okay, that is a bit dramatic, but upstaged by the style and comfort of tracksuit bottoms and the fact that many jeans styles have become way too tight and skinny, it’s time for a new direction.
The ‘Dad Jean’ is deliberately ill-fitting and unflattering and looks surprising fresh. Liberating and, so-bad-they’re-good type of thing, you need the most ill-fitting shape, in the worst wash you can find. You can thank me later!
Okay, these may take a while to get used to, but, ask yourself, how long did it take until you committed to your first pair of skinny jeans?
Think Kurt Cobain.
Left & Far Left - Topman - Blue Cropped Wide Leg Fit Jeans - £40
Weekday - Drift Loose Cropped Jeans Lagoon Blue Wash - £40 from ASOS
River Island - Light Blue Wash Cody Loose Fit Raw Edge Jeans - £45
Who knew Obama was the king of the dad jean?!
We’re going to take our warm weather inspiration from Michael Fassbender, today. This is how you want your polo shirt to look this summer. Of course, it helps if you have the body, but a knitted polo shirt with stretch will compliment most body types.
You want it to cling in the right places, so the chest and arms, so go for something fitted, but not too tight. The high-street are doing some great knitted polos at affordable prices or opt for something pricier in a bold colour. Go for a fine knit wool, even in summer, or a silk mix.
Left - Michael Fassbender at SXSW showing us how something so simple can look so good
Here are TheChicGeek’s favourites of the season:
Left - William Lockie for L+M Ecru Fine Knit Cotton Polo - £43 from Trouva
Left - Pretty Green - Stone Fortrose Knitted Polo - £65
Left - Prada - Slim-Fit Jacquard-Knit Wool Polo Shirt - £545 from MRPORTER.COM
Below - Reiss 'Manor' Merino Wool Polo Shirt - £75
Left - Fred Perry - Tipped Knitted Shirt - £70
Left - ASOS - Knitted Short Sleeve Textured Polo In Muscle Fit - £20
Below - River Island - Ecru Knitted Polo Shirt - £20
Left - Pretty Green X John Smedley - Chartham - £135
Left - H&M - Silk-Blend Polo Shirt - £24.99
Below - Peter Werth - SS17
Maybe it’s in homage to the latest Oasis documentary, but the roll-with-it thin-knit roll neck is the default easy menswear knitwear trend of the season. (That was quite a mouthful, or in this case, a neck full).
I'm not sure whether Liam or Noel would do a louche jewel-coloured rollneck with contrasting velvet jacket, but I'm sure they'll agree that it looks pretty good. Go for something fine, maybe a Merino wool or cashmere silk mix, if your budget allows for it. Look for golds, reds, pinks or oatmeal and team with a contrasting jacket like in Tom Ford's latest advertising campaign. This is easy, but cool dressing. Trust me, between now and next summer, you'll reach for the reliable rollneck and it'll leave you feeling supersonic!
Left - Tom Ford - Classic Cashmere Turtleneck - $1290
Left - John Smedley - Connell Deep Claret - £145
Below - Hymn - Maximum Roll Neck Burgundy - £50 From John Lewis
Left - Gucci - Cashmere Turtleneck - £485
Left - River Island - Light Brown Ribbed Roll Neck Jumper - £25
Left - Topman Premium - Pink Roll Neck Jumper - £35
TheChicGeek continued his journey north to the birthplace of Morrissey and Lowry - Salford Quays. Now, home to the BBC and ITV, these were the docks that supplied the world’s first industrial city.
Today, The Lowry theatre and gallery and the Imperial War Museum North are shiny centres of culture and the perfect backdrop for TheChicGeek’s latest OOTD.
TheChicGeek is rocking easy tourist chic, amongst the matchstick men, in a simple grey shirt and military green pleated trousers. Smart lace-up blue sandals, monogrammed belt and small backpack finishes this simple look. Bighead strikes again!
Credits - Shirt - Jigsaw Menswear - Trousers - River Island, Belt - Gucci, Shoes - Kurt Geiger, Bag - Mad Rabbit Kicking Tiger, Watch - Fossil Q Founder
With thanks to AC Hotels Salford Quays #ACHotels
TheChicGeek headed north to experience the renaissance of our great industrial centres. The first stop was the heart of the UK, Birmingham.
Arriving at the new and shiny - quite literally - Birmingham New Street station, TheChicGeek headed to the comfort of the new AC Hotel at the Mailbox development adjacent to the canal.
With more canals than Venice, Birmingham’s Mailbox is a mix of industrial heritage and modern architecture with a recently refurbished Harvey Nichols, shops and restaurants.
TheChicGeek went sporty in his OOTD with a fitted biker jacket in soft suede and new, relaxed dark denim jeans with an athleisure drawstring. Finished off with bright white plimsolls, Birmingham was the perfect eclectic backdrop for TheChicGeek.
Credits - Brown Suede Biker Jacket - ASOS - Flamingo Shirt - River Island, Drawstring Jeans - Replay, Trainers - Muji, Spectacles - Salvatore Ferragamo, Watch - Mondaine
With thanks to AC Hotels Birmingham Mailbox #ACHotels
See Salford Quays