The debacle at Clinton Cards is, in part, the outcome of a retailer that did not take its stores seriously.
Whoever ends up mopping up elements of the Clinton Cards portfolio, or indeed the entire estate, will have a major undertaking ahead of them. One of the things that has been the hallmark (absolutely no pun intended) of the great majority of Clinton Cards stores has been that they’re a bit, well, scruffy.
The branches stood as evidence of an organisation where either there was a belief that store environments really didn’t matter, or where there was insufficient money to do anything about them. On balance, most retailers understand the importance of a good-looking store and it’s therefore likely therefore that the latter is the case.
Whichever was closer to the truth however, the reality of walking into the former Oxford Street flagship (soon to be a concept Coast branch) was a store with dog-eared carpet and pieces of gaffer tape used to repair the parts where it had worn thin. The displays themselves were old-school gondolas and the lighting was budget, putting things generously. This was not, in short, an Oxford Street interior and shoppers deserved better.
Then, about the time of the Royal wedding last year, hope surfaced in St Albans where a new-look Clinton Cards was being trialled. This was certainly different from other branches, but whoever gave the thumbs up to bright orange as the dominant colour is perhaps now considering whether this was the right choice. Orange may work for a budget airline, but it looks disruptive on the high street.
The other point that might be worth thinking about is whether there was ever any realistic chance of rolling out the new design, given the parlous state of the company’s finances.
Finally, there’s the competition. At one end, there’s WH Smith, which may yet opt to buy parts of Clinton Cards, although what it would be able to do with them is a moot point, and at the other there are the smaller, more upscale operations such as Scribbler and Paperchase. Or at least these are considered more upscale. owing to their interiors. But the interesting point is that the bulk of the cards were roughly the same price as those in Clinton Cards. On this reckoning, Clinton Cards products looked overpriced - it’s a matter of setting expectations .
So what does all of this say about a possible future for Clinton Cards if it emerges from administration? The phrase rebrand is frequently overused, but this is one instance where it would really appear to be needed, and as soon as possible if anything is to be rescued.