Jack Wills has just announced some more high-level changes to its management team as the company prepares for its next phase of expansion.

Jack Wills has just announced some more high-level changes to its management team as the company prepares for its next phase of expansion. Wendy Becker, its chief operating officer, is said to be leading the changes in order to build upon ‘the global popularity of the brand’.

After naming Alan Johnson (ex-William Hill) as its UK retail director back in February, the company has now hired Emily Tate (previously at Fat Face) as its chief financial officer, Sanjay Sharma (from Reiss) as its new international director, and Mark Strachan (from LK Bennett) as its new sourcing director, starting in July.

It sounds like a very strong team - and it will need to be. Even though Jack Wills has built a successful business by drawing heavily on British heritage, style and culture, the chain suffered a pre-tax loss of £4.75 million over the year to 31 January 2012, which it partly blamed on its rapid international expansion.

Figures like these shouldn’t come as surprise, however. Few would argue with the fact that Jack Wills is trading under very difficult conditions - which is probably why the company is making such significant changes to the team as it tries to gain a firmer footing in the market and bolster its chances of sustainable commercial success.

One of the main challenges facing the management team may be the retailer’s relatively high price point, which could cause problems for a company whose target demographic has grown up during a time of austerity. For Jack Wills, this may prove to be an Achilles’ heel - in Britain at least - as many consumers in this age group are reassessing how they spend their money. The closure of Republic may act as a cautionary tale in this regard, after analysts confirmed that its target youth market had been the hardest-hit demographic of the recession.

As if these economic pressures weren’t enough, Jack Wills is also targeting this market at a time when this demographic is undergoing a significant cultural shift as it moves away from the latest trends and looks for differentiation instead. Instead of stocking up on well-known logos and heavily branded goods, today’s twenty-something Britons are more likely to seek out a mix of high street brands, a bit of vintage, and a few designer pieces that they’ve saved up for, as evidenced by the current offerings from the likes of Asos, Primark and Topshop.

UK consumers are definitely becoming shrewder and are increasingly being drawn to value fashion chains for basics that allow them to create their own look, rather than simply being one of the crowd. Jack Wills will therefore need to be inventive as it rides out this period of flux, and it seems like international expansion may be the most sensible way forward.

The retailer already has stores around the Ivy League campuses of Harvard and Yale, and other sites along the US east coast, having successfully identified a gap in the market for selling British heritage-inspired goods to university students in these areas. With this in mind, perhaps it’s no surprise that Jack Wills has built a management team with such strong expertise with international brands.

For example, the appointment of Emma Sheller seems like the perfect choice for the newly created role of chief marketing officer, having come from Gap, and before that, Louis Vuitton. In markets like the US, where Jack Wills’ ‘Fabulously British’ strapline still holds a lot of sway in certain states, the retailer may find that opportunity is still knocking rather loudly.

  • Dan Coen, director, Zolfo Cooper