Setting up an ecommerce site is a “relatively low risk way” of testing whether a retail brand will translate successfully abroad, according to Claire’s boss Jim Fielding.

Speaking at the NRF conference on Tuesday, chief executive officer Fielding said: “If the brand and product effort is compelling and differentiated, you can dip your toe in the market with a digital strategy. The ever changing channel provides wonderful expansion opportunities and is relatively low risk.”

Since expanding internationally 20 years ago, the accessories chain has a presence in 14 countries; of those it vertically owns and operates stores in 18 countries, and has franchised stores in 26 countries. In total, it has 3,500 stores and five ecommerce sites.

Fielding revealed Claire’s will “continue to expand its footprint geographically” in the coming year.

The keynote session entitled “Beyond Borders: Retail Lessons in Global Expansion” saw Fielding discuss how the chain plans for and monitors the potential risks to brand integrity that result from foreign activities up and down the value chain.

“Retailers can expand successfully with the right strategy,” Fielding told the audience. “Our business model is to keep it simple.”

In an effort to help other retailers build a differentiated global brand, Fielding shared five reasons he believes Claire’s has successfully established a global footprint.

1.     Promise – “We have a strong brand promise and mission that’s universal and that crosses borders and cultures.”

2.     Product – “Claire’s has over 6,000 active SKUs at any time; 65 are truly global and 35% are localised in various markets. The teams are empowered to customise assortments.”

3.     Place – “We have global store design brand guidelines but adapt to reflect local market realities and economics.”

4.     People – “Claire’s is committed to tracking, developing and retaining good people every day.”

5.     Performance – “If you have a strong promise, combined with product, place and people, you’ll have a strong performance.”

Fielding added that retailers should “look beyond borders for growth opportunities” only when they have “maximised the home market”. “Is your home market performing well and meeting expectations?” he asked. “Are your core competencies and business models scalable, and do you have the infrastructure to support expanding?”.

“A maximum critical factor is management bandwidth – do you have available resources to give to the project and staff with requisite knowledge, or do you need to recruit and train talent?” he added.

Crucially, Fielding asserted the retail brand “must be scalable and portable”.

Fielding on the key to global expansion success

·        Do the research

·        Think global

·        Blend expertise with brand experts

·        Stay flexible and nimble

·        Pick the right partners

·        Think digital and physical

·        Expect the unexpected