Edinburgh Woollen Mill (EWM) Group owner Philip Day is launching a new department store concept and even putting his own name above the door.

Days Department Store is due to open this April in Carmarthenshire, South Wales, containing a culmination of its best brands, the retailer said. 

Measuring 16,900 sq ft and spanning two floors, EWM claims the store will “embrace fashion, home, premium brands and a new concept restaurant, all under one roof”.

The retail group – which spans 980 standalone stores, concessions and websites across Peacocks, Jane Norman, Ponden Home Store and Austin Reed – has made no secret of its “ambitious growth plans”.

When it snapped up the latest addition to the group, Austin Reed, out of administration in May last year, Day revealed ambitions to open 200 new stores across all fascias by 2018, including 50 Austin Reed stores.

But will EWM’s latest venture prove to be a hit, at a time of mixed fortunes for department store retailers?

Is it a good move?

Whether or not there will eventually be a slew of Days Department Stores is yet unknown. However, according to Retail Week Prospect analyst Rebecca Marks, a move into the rapidly changing, volatile department store market is an “illogical” one.

In the past year BHS has collapsed, John Lewis has warned bonuses will be slashed and Debenhams’ full-year profits has fallen 10% in its last financial year.

“The market has undergone a wealth of change over the last two years to fuel full price sales and increase dwell time, such as increasing the number of food concessions and increasing beauty services,” she says.

“Given the volatility that established and well-loved department stores have had to experience, as well as the sheer investment continuously required to keep them above water, it seems illogical for a new player to emerge and try and compete.”

Is there a public appetite?

What’s more, Marks is not confident of the public appetite for having EWM brands under one roof.

“While Day’s comes armed with a handful of its owned brands, they don’t attract a similar customer market, making it even harder for the group to drive footfall through the premise it’s already known for.

“Additionally, the winning formula for department stores these days seems to be their beauty and gift offers, neither of which the business is known for embracing,” she adds.

Anusha Couttigane, senior analyst at Kantar Retail, says that Days will need to broaden its category proposition and bring in external labels, particularly in areas such as premium beauty, accessories and luggage.

She suggests it could also pave the way for EWM to make further acquisitions to bolster its offer.

An expert source close to the retailer told Retail Week that Days’ diverse spread of brands might be an advantage.

“When you look at what Edinburgh Woollen Mill has as a group, it has a cheap-end with Peacocks, and Jane Norman and Austin Reed at top-end. It caters for the elderly with Edinburgh Woollen Mill and it even also has some homewares.

“Right across the group, Day is already selling to tourists, older women, older men, aspiring men and fashionable young women.

“Whether that works everywhere, under one roof, might be debatable – I can’t see him coming into London with it or rolling out 50 stores. But in locations around Cardiff, for example, where there are one or two upmarket streets, he will be able to service a community.

“You may not have everything you’d expect in a department store, and some of the brands are like chalk and cheese, but if you get the spacing right and you’re selling the right products at the price, it doesn’t really matter if you’re targeting a range of different customers.”

Filling a BHS-shaped gap

Couttigane believes that Days has potential and says it could fill the gap left by BHS. She goes so far as to claim that EWM could be the “Arcadia of the noughteens”.

”We have few other businesses that compare to the model Days is proposing, where potentially all the brands within a department store belong to the same parent company, particularly when the brands owned by the company are quite wide-ranging,” she says

The source close to EWM argues that, because Day already has his supply chains for each brand set up, “pulling it together for the benefits of scale and space saving” could be a smart idea – “particularly given some of the rental costs on his estate”.

He points out that the tycoon will also have an advantage over other independent department store retailers because he has buying power with suppliers and will consequently be able to offer competitive prices.

“Day is a smart retailer who’s bought brands on an opportunistic basis, often out of administration, when they are cheap,” he adds.

So while Day’s Edinburgh Woollen Mill group may not create the perfect department store, the retail tycoon could be onto something.