Barratts has, to a large degree, been the architect of its own misfortune as it failed the differentiation test in a crowded sector.

Barratts has, to a large degree, been the architect of its own misfortune as it failed the differentiation test in a crowded sector.

Last week we heard news that shoe retailer Barratts had “plunged” once more into administration. There is nothing terribly surprising about the plunge perhaps. Over the last four years, or thereabouts, watching this bastion of mid-market shoe retailing heading for the office of the administrator has become something of a recurring feature, in spite of a series of reinventions, resizings and redesigns of the stores and the store portfolio.

The question that has to be asked is why hasn’t it disappeared before now? The budget and mid-market shoe sector is a crowded place. With operators from Aldo and Office at the top end to New Look and Primark further down the price scale, there is no shortage of retailers looking to cater for those who like fashion but have an eye on the bottom line. This is in spite of the disappearance of names such as Dolcis, Mr Shoe and Original Shoe Company, among many others.

Those that remain do so because, for the most part, they are either mono-brand offers that have strength through their names, or, like Office, because they are adept at distilling what it is that a particular age and demographic wants from the many brands that are out there. Sadly Barratts has not had a hugely robust own-brand offer and the brands that it stocked were perfectly mainstream, but almost everything on display was on show somewhere else, or at least something very similar.

Now think about the stores. Latterly, some of these were actually pretty good, with the company having invested in the services of design consultancy Dalziel and Pow a few years ago. But as is always the case, you can sell a strong offer from a relatively impoverished store environment, but it doesn’t work the other way around.

Sadly for all concerned, Barratts has failed to put sufficient distance between itself and the many competitors that it goes head to head with on the high street. It was good, but just not good enough when set against what was on offer elsewhere. The notion that in any market there are losers as well as winners is one that is in clear evidence here. And it has been in this position for some time. The wonder is that the seemingly inevitable hasn’t taken place before now.