There are too many department store groups on UK high streets and something has to give.
The news last week that Nigel Oddy, chief executive of House of Fraser, is on his way may have come as a surprise in some quarters, although the revolving door in the management office has been working overtime for a while now.
But the real question that might be asked is whether there are too many department store groups in the UK and whether the Chinese owner of House of Fraser might be thinking the same.
“Both rely on racetrack layouts, both have own-brands and both tend to place a heavy emphasis on beauty stalwarts such as Clarins and Clinique”
To name just a few, House of Fraser, Debenhams, Fenwick, John Lewis and, at the top end, Selfridges, equate to a fairly major high-street tranche, and it is certainly difficult from time to time to discern why Debenhams and House of Fraser still exist as separate entities.
Wander into many of the provincial outposts of these two and it is sometimes difficult to see much difference between them, although House of Fraser would probably claim that it serves a more upmarket, or at least better heeled, shopper.
Both rely, however, on racetrack layouts, both have own-brands and both tend to place a heavy emphasis on beauty stalwarts such as Clarins and Clinique.
So how do they make their pitch to the shopper and, if a choice is to be made, what will sway it for the Debs or HoF customer?
Maybe both will be shopped by the same shoppers and it is certainly the case that the top-end, branded offer in House of Fraser will be more expensive than mid-market Debenhams.
Yet the similarities are greater than the differences.
Both also compete for high-street legroom with Fenwick and there are many smaller department stores that also cover the same ground.
“There are indeed too many department stores on our high streets and, sooner or later, if things are tightening, something has to give”
Could it therefore be the case that five years, a decade at most, from now there will be further consolidation within the department store sector and that we might wind up with a House of Debenhams?
And would that work?
The truth of the matter is that there are indeed too many department stores on our high streets and, sooner or later, if things are tightening, something has to give.
A House of Debs would also bring a degree of clarity for shoppers which is currently lacking and the outcome might be better stores all round and more reliable revenues for retailers.
And before you think this sounds like pie in the sky, cast your mind back a few years to the days before Bentalls and Beatties were subsumed into the greater good that is Fenwick. Make sense?