No wonder British department store chiefs are sprucing up their businesses.
They need only look across the Atlantic to see how some of the most famous names in the industry are reeling, and they don’t want the same to happen here.
The stats are frightening. Macy’s is shutting 68 stores, Sears and Kmart 150. A raft of big department store groups suffered a dismal holiday sales period.
Although some of the reasons for the malaise afflicting department stores Stateside may be particular to that market, their predicament serves as a wake-up call.
This year House of Fraser will invest £45m in improvements. However, last year alone the John Lewis Partnership invested almost £231m in its eponymous department stores
So House of Fraser’s latest plans, ranging from a more experiential in-store experience and better curation of its range of brands to investment in its online business, make sense.
But should the retailer not be moving even faster?
This year it will invest £45m in improvements. However, last year alone the John Lewis Partnership invested almost £231m in its eponymous department stores. JLP also cut bonuses in order to dedicate more to investment this year.
Next month, new Debenhams boss Sergio Bucher will unveil his strategy and will no doubt be seeking to up the ante.
House of Fraser’s vision of its future will be enacted over five years. Surely it should seek to accelerate change?
Time for French Connection’s Marks to act on governance
When I interviewed French Connection boss Stephen Marks, many moons ago, one thing sticks in my mind.
The chair I sat down on, across the desk from him, tilted backwards and just about tipped me on to the floor.
To this day I have no idea whether it was just the happenstance of that office perennial, the dodgy chair, or a deliberate set-up designed to establish a power relationship between him, multimillionaire tycoon, and me in my off-the-peg M&S suit.
The latter has always been my suspicion – and with grudging respect.
French Connection has found it difficult to replicate its glory period and its founder has adopted a cussed attitude that does him and it no favours
French Connection was one of the great British retail entrepreneurial stories, the tale of a founder driven by enthusiasm for his product and convinced it’s his way or the highway.
But, as inspired a designer and retailer as Marks may be, recent years have not been kind to French Connection.
The business has found it difficult to replicate its glory period and its founder has adopted a cussed attitude that does him and it no favours.
When someone has such attachment to, and emotional and financial investment in, the company they’ve built is exactly when they need a reality check.
The demands for improved governance at French Connection, and the hoped-for improvement in performance as a result, should not be seen by Marks as an indictment of his capabilities.
On the contrary, as businesses grow and face unexpected ups and downs, that’s when an independent view comes into its own.
Rather than opposing demands for governance reform, Marks should welcome it.
Fresh perspectives could help him restore French Connection’s fashion and investment credentials. That’s good for him and his personal stake, as well as other investors.
It’s time for him to be brave about getting the right sort of non-execs on French Connection’s board.