Thursday, 2 June 2016

Sales decisions loom on BHS Austin Reed

This week sees two formally leading brand  names of the UK high street that are destined to disappear. They are Austin Reed and BHS.

 In the last decade we have lost many former champions of the British High Street such as Store names we have lost
Phone for U
Threshers Wine shop
Zavvi  formerly Virgin Megastore  )
Blockbuster Video
Borders Books
JJB sports

The imminent departures of BHS and Austin Reed  have  been picked over by the expert vultures of the business analyst community. I have held back quoting their real names, but the quotes are real enough. Take a look at the quotes below and you will recognise this week’s analysis clichés . reporters for the above failures ( and probably were) . The sad thing is that such quotes always brought out in the press at such times.

 I have put the words in bold type for those who are familiar with the key parts of the traditional marketing mix.

 “ .....retail experts say the firm has failed to keep pace with its competitors.”
"The company's (product) offer has been inconsistent, the ( product) ranges have been poor and the stores have looked rather tired ( merchandising)," said Mr X  business advisers XYZ.

"Perhaps most disappointingly, the website is not good enough by today's' standards ( technology)” said Mr Y of Baksete-Dryvas,  Hyndesite and Wyze -Arftarevent  Partners.
How are the mighty fallen? And their weapons of War defeated/depleted.

Came across this ad for Austin Reed in a concert
programme back in the day when I used to sing with 
the Royal Choral Society
Austin Reed started as a tailoring business in the City of London more than a century ago, selling off-the-rack suits which could pass muster as made to measure.
Austin Reed had a concession on the transatlantic liner, the Queen Elizabeth, and supplied clothing for special agents and resistance fighters during World War Two.

British Homes Stores first opened for business in Brixton, south London in 1928
Mary Portas Retail Guru focused her analysis on constantly re-imagining the Brand to keep in contact with your customer. It is worth listening to Portas because she reminds why these brands were once leaders and identifies where they may have lost their way in a changing market.

Back in the day at BHS

“The historical position of British Home Stores was a practical solution brand that was affordable and accessible. At its heart, BHS delivered good quality, decent items for people on a budget.  It always had a brilliant lighting department”

Change in shopping

Yet a retail business like British Home Stores needs to constantly re-imagine itself to connect to today’s consumer.

The way we shop today has changed, irreversibly.

The internet ( technology), international competition (competition), the recession (economy); all those things have made consumers really think about where they were spending their money. 

“Today, the consumer is absolutely king.”  Mary Portas

If we look back over the history of retailing, and the history of BHS, customer choices were limited.

Now, though, consumers can shop
where they want,
when they want – whatever time of day they want –
and pretty much at whatever budget they want.
To separate yourself from the pack, you have to be the best in practice (USP), whatever that means for your particular business.

That can be across different things:
the best fashion,
the best product,
the best price,
the best social experience,
the most desirable,
the most innovative
or simply the most wanted because you've got a brilliant brand.

Sadly, Mary Portas observes  British Home Stores was none of those.

What WAS right can now be WRONG

BHS was a national chain, so it was in the right towns, in the right places. But today that is not as significant.

Through the years, the retail world has changed in so many different ways; international brands coming in, competition firing up, and the internet has given people access to and knowledge of what is fashionable and where to buy it. There are also social media platforms that can make the small and niche big and powerful. There are new kids-on-the-block looking at innovative ways of connecting their businesses to consumers. There are young entrepreneurs, who are hungry – and creative.

Sadly, British Homes Stores didn’t change.

A ‘lick of paint’ is no longer enough!

It sort of smartened itself up a bit and thought that would be enough – and it wasn't.
BHS was a value retailer, it kept the right price, but lately it has just looked like the sad relation to Marks & Spencer.

If you are not part of the solution- you’ve gotta be part of the problem.

 Mary Portas gives some ideas of how she would have gone about things at BHS.

“If I had been at British Home Stores I would have looked at today’s market place and created a brand that is relevant for today’s shopper.” Mary Portas
I would have gone totally after the value market, but made it functional and cool.

I would have started with where it was good – the lighting. Then I would have extended that to become a modern British lifestyle retailer at a great price.

Who have got it right on the UK high street? Tiger, Uniglo Primark and Ikea

“Look at Tiger, which has come on to our high streets. It has done an extraordinary job of taking that basic fundamental market that was the old Woolies, and made it sexy.”

Imagine if British Home Stores’ ground floor was like Tiger, its fashion floor like Uniqlo or Primark and its home stuff like Ikea. Value with sex appeal all under one roof. Then add some small startups that are all young British makers or designers.

House them within a market place model and then you start a business with a point of view.
So, BHS is not the best value brand in town. It’s not the best homewares brand around. It’s not the best fashion at a good price in town. It hasn't got the best brand reputation. It’s not the sexiest and it’s not the most loved.

I don’t think we will miss what it is today. I think we will miss what it was at a time when it was relevant. And I think we will miss the fact that it wasn't made relevant. For great businesses like that it is all about the vision.

Lots of brands come back on to the market if they have been failing, and re-imagined themselves. Just look at Woolworths. What a tragedy it was when it went from our high street. But look at what has taken over that gap: the Pound shops. Woolworths when it started off – everything under one roof for a cent – was the first value, brilliant retailer. It let that go and that pound shop business is what Woolworths should have been today.

The great thing about great retailing is re-imagining your business in new landscapes. We have never had such changeable times. British Homes Stores was not re-imagined, and that is its problem.

(Mary Portas is founder of Portas, a creative communications agency that advises retailers the world over)

The BHS  downfall is a more significant collapse than Woolies, which was pushed over the edge by the recession. BHS is a similarly  tired brand, but one that appears to have died from under-investment.
If Next are struggling as is rumoured , what on earth must be going on in the less well-capitalised, less well-run, less IT-savvy businesses out there out there on the high street.
 Will see a number of other fashion chains collapse? 
Putting finance, administration / management and IT aside ( which of course you cannot !)

·        Past performance is no indicator of future performance in marketing.
·        What got you here won’t get you to where you want in the future, in marketing. 
·        Hope is not a strategy for marketing success.

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