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From Sheep to Shop: New Look’s Quick Turn

LONDON — When England scored its winning goal against Argentina at the World Cup last summer, life here ground to a halt and champagne corks popped everywhere, except for the New Look factories in the southwestern county of Dorset.<br><br>Minutes...

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LONDON — When England scored its winning goal against Argentina at the World Cup last summer, life here ground to a halt and champagne corks popped everywhere, except for the New Look factories in the southwestern county of Dorset.

Minutes after England nailed its 1-0 victory, New Look was printing T-shirts with the winning team’s colors and the score. Within six hours, New Look had made its first deliveries to a unit in Leicester.

Although England was later defeated, New Look continued to sell the popular soccer T-shirts with the colors of England, Brazil and Italy for the duration of the World Cup to the tune of $6.3 million.

Phil Wrigley, managing director of the publicly traded company, said he believes New Look’s quick-response supply chain and focus on U.K. trends are the key to a more competitive — and lucrative — future for New Look.

“Stores like Hennes & Mauritz and Zara have a ubiquitous Euro look, while Topshop is obsessed with the catwalk and slavishly follows celebrity. Our focus, instead, is on the U.K. trends and our odd, quirky British humor,” he said in an interview, adding that the vertically integrated company can go from “sheep to shop” in as little as four weeks.

Wrigley, who began turning around and rebranding New Look two years ago, has so far seen the share price rocket from $0.80 to $3.55. In the first half of the 2002 fiscal year, sales rose 14 percent to $498 million. Wrigley’s project isn’t finished, however, and he said his goal is to boost New Look’s share of the women’s moderate market from its current 2 to 4 percent in the medium term.

“We want to be the U.K.’s favorite moderate fashion retailer,” he said.

Store expansion is a key ingredient to growth. In the fall, New Look will open its first, rebranded flagship on Oxford Street, across from one of its main competitors, H&M. For the third quarter ended Aug. 31, the fast-growing H&M reported a 53 percent increase in profits to $205.8 million on a 15 percent sales gain to $1.36 billion.

The interiors of New Look’s 15,000-square-foot store will be designed by the hip company Future Systems and will carry New Look’s full range of clothing and accessories. In the 2003 fiscal year, the company plans to open a total of 175,000 square feet of retail space across the U.K. The strategy is to shut down smaller units and replace them with stores that have an average size of 3,000 square feet.

There are 489 New Look stores in the U.K., with another 35 set to open by the end of next month. In addition, there are 167 stores in France that generate about 10 percent of New Look’s total sales.

Competitive pricing is another ingredient to growth. Currently, New Look’s prices are about 30 percent less than Topshop and 40 percent lower than Next, another main-street fast-fashion chain.

As for New Look’s fashion offer, Wrigley said his goal is to appeal to as wide an audience as possible, including “sexy forty- and fiftysomethings,” larger sizes and petites; cultivate the store’s current relationship with designers Luella Bartley, Eley Kishimoto and Georgina Goodman, and expand the company’s footwear range.

“Most importantly, we don’t want to discriminate against or hector our customers,” said Wrigley. “Our philosophy is this: We’re open for business, come in and have some fun.”

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