Retail veteran Derek Lovelock is the latest retail big hitter to vie to bring stability to the turbulent mother and baby market after taking the helm at Mamas & Papas.
Lovelock joins as interim chief executive a month after private equity firm BlueGem took a majority stake in the formerly family-owned business. He takes the reins as Mamas & Papas seeks to find its niche in a crowded market where specialists are being battered by price competition from supermarkets and online rivals.
Market leader Mothercare last month hired well-respected former Shop Direct boss Mark Newton-Jones as chief executive as it aims to revive its loss-making UK business.
Meanwhile, Morrisons sold Kiddicare to turnaround specialist Endless for just £2m in July, three years after the grocer bought the retailer for £70m. It is thought Endless will return Kiddicare to its etail roots and close its stores.
Investec analyst Kate Calvert said: “The specialists are suffering. It’s price-competitive and a lot of products are branded. They’re being squeezed by grocers and Amazon.”
The maternitywear market is expected to grow only £6m to £147m in the next three years, according to Mintel. In kidswear, the specialists picked up just 3% of the estimated £6.5bn 2013 market, losing out to general retailers.
However, the nursery and baby equipment market, which Mothercare leads, is forecast to increase from £782m to £844m by 2018.
One source said recent strategic and ownership changes could ease pressure in the sector.
“The sector is changing, with Kiddicare’s stores closing and Mothercare moving to a more premium trading position,” said the source.
It is thought that Lovelock will focus on differentiating Mamas & Papas by increasing its focus on design and innovation.
Mamas & Papas, which had a premium position in the nursery market, is thought to have over-expanded in the UK in recent years.
It has more than doubled store numbers in the past five years, including opening out-of-town sheds, which observers say are at odds with its premium positioning.
Lovelock, who recently stood down as chairman of Aurora Fashions, is familiar with the nursery market. He was in charge of Sears’ clothing department, including Adams Childrenswear, in the 1990s.
It is understood Mamas & Papas founding family the Scacchettis, who hold senior positions at the retailer, will continue in post.
Mothercare is also investing in its ranges and eyeing exclusive tie-ups with big suppliers as it tries to reduce discounting.
Mintel senior consumer analyst Tamara Sender said maternity retailers could learn from electricals specialists, which also face competition from non-specialists and online pure-plays.
“Electricals retailers looked to sourcing exclusive product models from manufacturers and improving their service proposition,” she said.