The unassuming woollens and knitwear retailer recently caught the headlines by snapping up the Jane Norman brand, but its history shows it is no stranger to acquisitions

Why are we talking about Edinburgh Woollen Mill now?

The retailer acquired the young womenswear brand Jane Norman and 33 stores from administrators last week. It plans to develop and grow the chain in the UK and overseas.

What is Edinburgh Woollen Mill?

It is a clothing and homewares retailer specialising in woollens, knitwear and casual outdoor wear for the over 45s. The retailer - 75% owned by chief executive Philip Day - has a wide portfolio of stores, which include 192 on the high street and 94 specialist tourist shops, which trade under local fascias such as Ben Nevis Highland Centre, where gifts and products reflect the store location.

The retailer also has 28 destination centres that contain all of the brands it owns and trade under local, individual fascias such as Antartex Village, in Loch Lomond and Masson Mill, in Derbyshire. Edinburgh Woollen Mill pre-tax profit reached £25.3m against sales of £193m for its year ending February 2010.

Why did Edinburgh Woollen Mill buy Jane Norman?

The retailer, whose core market was traditionally the over 60s, has been trying to attract younger consumers in recent years. Since 2005 the group has repositioned its offer to target the 45- to 60-year-old customer, which is now the fastest growing age group in the UK. The Jane Norman acquisition targets a younger customer still.

Verdict consulting director Neil Saunders said it makes sense for Edinburgh Woollen Mill to appeal to a wider customer base. “Edinburgh Woollen Mill has the oldest age profile on the high street. It needs to balance out the business to become less reliant on those older consumers.”

What is next for Edinburgh Woollen Mill?

The retailer has been rapidly building its portfolio over the past few years and diversifying from its core market. In 2008, it moved into homewares when it snapped up Rosebys and Ponden Mill from administration. There are now 100 standalone Ponden Home stores and concessions.

The Jane Norman acquisition adds further variety to the group. Retail Week Knowledge Bank consultant Wendy Massey said the retailer could consider entering new categories with further potential acquisitions. She said: “The Jane Norman move was a shock. But it has done well with Rosebys and Ponden Mill, so they could well seek to enter new sectors.”