When Sports Direct acquired House of Fraser for £90m in August, boss Mike Ashley immediately vowed to save 80% of its store portfolio.
But the influence of Ashley and his sportswear business is slowly being felt inside the department store chain, too.
House of Fraser’s flagship store on Oxford Street now stocks a range of sportswear brands, including Adidas, Puma and Reebok, to boost its athleisure offer.
However, the proposition is still somewhat patchy. Womenswear tends, with the notable exception of Adidas, to be imaginatively merchandised.
The Reebok concession, with its pastel colour scheme, is set off by wooden gymnastic rings and is an upmarket departure from Ashley’s usual pile-it-high, sell-it-cheap schtik, although random yoga mats underneath – while helpful on the upsell – could be much better displayed.
In menswear, the Sports Direct aesthetic is much more evident – but the lone mannequin wearing an Adidas tracksuit is somewhat randomly placed among the formalwear and shoes department.
On entering the first floor menswear department from the top of the escalator – the area that was once reserved for seasonal garments from the likes of Hugo Boss, Ralph Lauren and Ted Baker – shoppers are greeted by the propositions of Firetrap, Kangol, Everlast and Sol Cal, all brands imported into HoF by Sports Direct.
Merchandising aside, it’s questionable whether the new sportswear offer resonates with House of Fraser customer at all.
HoF has always been fashion-oriented and relatively aspirational – think Mulberry, Armani and Versace. Upmarket athleisure could strike a chord, but a sea of tracksuits will not.
The store was virtually empty on both Retail Week visits last week – one a Wednesday lunchtime and the other a Friday morning – despite Oxford Street buzzing outside.
Customers are clearly not falling for Ashley’s charms just yet, either.