How many British women will be wearing bras bought from Dutch variety store Hema in five years’ time?

How many British women will be wearing bras bought from Dutch variety store Hema in five years’ time?

It may sound like an odd question, but not when you know that a fifth of Dutch women own a Hema bra. The answer, sadly, may be none, as the retailer has no plans yet to bring its lingerie over to the UK. It opened its first store here last week and is clearly a formidable presence in its homeland, where one in eight of the population owns a Hema bath towel and it sells five fitted sheets every minute.

So it was with no surprise that its first UK store, which opened in Victoria Station last week, caused quite a stir, among those in the know anyway. But the key question is this: will it create the same level of excitement among British shoppers?

I’d say so. And funnily enough so does Hema’s boss, Ronald Van Zetten. While Hema has been likened to pound stores, Van Zetten maintained the retailer is carving its own path. Van Zetten told Retail Week: “We are not Poundland. Our offer will make a difference in the UK market.”

For a start, Hema makes its own products, has a contemporary, almost slick store fit, and has higher price points. It is launching in the UK with 6,000 own-brand SKUs, although the group carries 17,000 SKUs.

The 2,700 sq ft store in Victoria includes beauty, toys, stationery and confectionery, but larger UK stores, the first of which will open later this month, will also sell home and garden ranges. Put simply, it’s everything Woolies should have been.

In fact the retailer it perhaps most resembles is Tiger, which has seen its own success in recent years, and its Tottenham Court Road store is a great example of a value retailer with tonnes of exciting product, all well merchandised.

So Hema won’t have it all its own way. But with plenty of firepower behind it – the group generated sales of €1.2bn in 2012 and operates more than 600 stores over Europe – Hema will have no problem funding its fairly ambitious expansion plans of 10 shops in and around London and a further 15 across the continent this year. It also plans to launch an online offer in the UK too.

Just as The Netherlands football team pummelled World Cup holders Spain last week, Hema are odds on to shake up the UK retail scene, and if its Dutch customers are anything to go by, the lingerie market in particular.

  • Nicola Harrison is news editor of Retail Week