LONDON — These might be grim days for British high street retailers, and especially ones with large bricks-and-mortar footprints, but that’s only spurring the smarter stores to rethink their sales strategies, create a point of difference and move in tune with the consumer.
Debenhams, the British department store chain with 240 units in 27 countries, is one of them. The retailer, which saw pre-tax profits in the first half slide 85 percent to 87.8 million pounds due partly to a raft of temporary closures from bad weather, is taking a fresh look at its long-standing program, Designers at Debenhams.
Designers at Debenhams offers seasonal collections from the likes of Preen, Jonathan Saunders, Marios Schwab, Henry Holland and Matthew Williamson. In May, Debenhams will add hot London talent Richard Quinn to its roster. A second collection by Quinn, winner of the inaugural Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Design, is slated for spring/summer 2019.
This month, Preen, which is designed by the husband-and-wife team of Justin Thornton and Thea Bregazzi with clients including the Duchess of Cambridge, Rihanna, Christy Turlington and Michelle Obama, has created a 12-piece, capsule dress range to accompany its spring collection for the store.
Prices range from 90 pounds for a viscose dress to 200 pounds for a silk one.
The duo created smocks, tea styles and three wrap dresses to accommodate a variety of body shapes, and said they tried to steer away from classic and basic fare. They also dipped into their own archives, reworking a host of vintage prints. “We wanted to create pieces you can’t get elsewhere,” said Thornton in an interview.
He and Bregazzi were allowed more freedom than usual in the design process, he said, and were able to give the capsule an edgier look than what they usually do for Designers at Debenhams.
The collection has got off to a roaring start: According to Steven Cook, the former chief merchant at Holt Renfrew who joined Debenhams earlier this year as MD of fashion and home, the Preen capsule was 174 percent ahead of its first-week plan.
“Newness sells, and so does great product. What we’re seeing is a lot of pent-up demand, and our aim is to embrace and excite the customer,” he said, adding that the collection has been selling well in all of the 48 stores where it’s currently stocked.
Debenhams also tweaked its marketing for the Preen dress project, giving the capsule collection its own landing page and coordinating digital, bricks-and-mortar and social media strategies to drive sales.
Looking ahead, Cook said that similar projects for the Designers at Debenhams brands are “well underway” and the store is also looking to sharpen up its third-party relationships, concessions and adjacencies in a bid to get customers across the U.K. revved-up and spending again.