just-style management briefing: Retail winners and losers in 2011
While some retailers continued to be vulnerable to cost-cutting, swingeing redundancies and store closures in 2011, others acted swiftly to respond to the changing economic circumstances, offering real value to their customers and embarking on ambitious international expansion.
Marks & Spencer
Times may still be tough in its home British market, but M&S showed forward-thinking foresight in 2011 on sourcing transparency and the environment - both potential key issues for future consumers. First, it launched what it claimed was Britain's first mass-market carbon neutral bra, having its entire carbon footprint independently certified by the Carbon Trust. The bra has been made at Marks & Spencer's eco-model factory at Thurulie in Sri Lanka. And it teamed up with Historic Futures to roll out a 'String' traceability service across its extended supply chain. This cloud-computing based database is to give information on where and how every M&S product is made, including its cotton, yarn and fabric production, dying and clothing manufacture.
Netherlands-based Tommy Hilfiger showed its emerging market nous by buying a 50% share in the joint venture which represents its products in India - paying an undisclosed sum to previous stakeholder Murjani Group. This sees Hilfiger - now part of the PVH corporation - partner with local operation Arvind Limited in the ownership of Arvind Murjani Brands Pvte Ltd. "India is an important market for Tommy Hilfiger," said the company's CEO Fred Gehring. Meanwhile, Hilfiger launched a European flagship store in Knightsbridge, London in December - the firm's biggest in the UK and third largest in Europe.
It is hard not to suffer when a huge earthquake and tsunami devastates part of your home market, and Japan's Fast Retailing was hit hard by the disaster on 11 March. Sales at its domestic Uniqlo stores fell 10.1% that month, knocked by the Tohoku-Kanto earthquake. It damaged 160 group stores, but by 1 April Fast Retailing had managed to get 146 branches back in business. And in September, it dusted itself down and announced plans to become the world's leading manufacturer and retailer by 2020, opening some 200 to300 Uniqlo stores a year to reach net sales of JPY5trn (US$65bn) by 2020, expanding into China, South Korea, Taiwan, the Asean region, Europe and the US.
Hennes & Mauritz (H&M)
The Swedish retailer demonstrated the benefits of perseverance in 2011, showing that success in the clothing business can be bought by steady growth. Despite some wobbles over pre-autumn sales brought by late hot summer weather in Europe, the company said it would open 265 new stores (net) in 2011, up from a planned 250. The company also announced Indonesia and Thailand would become new franchise markets during 2012 and also would open a first standalone store in Bulgaria. Meanwhile, H&M rented space in November to launch its first standalone Monki and Cheap Monday stores in the UK - in London's Carnaby Street. And it revealed plans to collaborate with Italian brand Marni.
The UK's largest retailer acquired a new CEO this year and he declared that improving UK clothing sales was a priority. There has been some fresh thinking as a result and Tesco enters 2012 in better shape to fight a potential downturn in the economy. Reporting an improvement in its UK clothing segment, CEO Philip Clarke added he was shifting sourcing closer to home buying more from Europe and Egypt, instead of relying on its Hong Kong office. Meanwhile, Tesco revealed plans to extend its online clothing delivery service to international markets, trialling it in Europe, with high hopes for sales in Spain, France, Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary.
It is hard to conceive of the American retail behemoth being anything but a winner, but Wal-Mart struggled with weak US sales in 2011, coming out of a surprisingly difficult final quarter in 2010. Domestic sales slipped 0.5% to US$71.1bn in the three months to 31 January, with (excluding fuel) comparable-store sales down 1.1% for both the year and quarter in the US. And in May, there was a another dip, with Wal-Mart admitting an eighth quarter running when same-store sales have dropped, with apparel having "a mid-single-digit negative comp", with the greatest weakness in children's, ladies' and shoe lines. Wal-Mart has tried to broaden its range, but the company says progress will take time, especially while its low income customers struggle in America's flaccid economy.
Abercrombie & Fitch
Sometimes the market just won't help a chain. Shares in US apparel chain Abercrombie & Fitch fell this year - despite sales holding up. Shares dived 19% in November - even though the teen fashion brand reported a 21% increase in third-quarter sales to reach US$1.1bn. It was the same story in August, with shares tumbling despite the chain reporting a sharp increase in second-quarter net income of 64.1% to US$32m on the back of a 23% sales increase. Add that to an admission rising costs could force up ticket prices and an American workplace discrimination lawsuit for allegedly sacking a Muslim employee for wearing a hijab or religious head scarf, and 2011 was no banner year for Abercrombie & Fitch.
UK sports retailer JJB Sports had a torrid time in 2011. In February, it announced plans to close 45 under-performing British stores and review a further 50 in the next two years. Then in May, it warned a planned turnaround could take five years, after more than doubling pre-tax losses to GBP181.4m (US$294.9m) in 2010. However, management raised GBP96.5m to fund reinvestment and struck a deal with landlords, swapping reduced rent for shares. In October, JJB warned its full-year performance could be worse than expected after first-half losses widened to GBP66.5m (US$106.6m) and sales continued to deteriorate.
While global profits were steady, continuing declines in sales at Gap's North American home unit saw the company split with its design chief Patrick Robinson. The company has now seen five years of declining same-store sales and decided to revamp its North American namesake division. A Global Creative Center was created in New York to improve performance and execute one global design vision. The company also pushed ahead internationally, opening a first Gap store in Italy, Hong Kong and Serbia and a first Banana Republic in Russia. Overall though, results showed work needs to be done. Net income tumbled to $189m in the three months to 30 July, down from $234m the same period last year, for instance.
Liz Claiborne Inc
The struggling US clothing firm has had such a bad year it actually had to sell its namesake line for $328m to reduce long-term debt, and will look for a new name as it refocuses on three core brands: Juicy Couture, Lucky Brand and Kate Spade. October saw announcements that JC Penney would buy most of the Liz Claiborne brands and the American rights to Monet, while Bluestar Alliance would acquire Kensie, Kensiegirl and Mac & Jac. The company also sold the Dana Buchman label to Kohl's. The soon-to-be renamed Liz Claiborne Inc will retain the international rights for Monet, and will retain licences to the LCNY and Lizwear trademarks until July 2020. It also signed a deal for Li & Fung to handle its American distribution.
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