Tim Bettley, Morrisons director of clothing

Tim Bettley, Morrisons director of clothing

With the launch of its new Nutmeg line later this month, Morrisons becomes the last of the big four UK supermarket retailers to offer a clothing range. While Morrisons may be starting small, with a focus on children's wear, it is not short on ambition, as Morrisons director of clothing, Tim Bettley, explains.

The Nutmeg brand is set to launch in 100 Morrisons stores from 21 March, and will initially focus on children's wear plus a small range of adult essentials, including underwear, sleepwear and socks. Bettley describes Nutmeg as a "family brand", with plans to extend the line into a full range of adult clothing at some point.

He is quick to note that as the last supermarket to enter the clothing sector, Morrisons was "keen to do something a little bit different". What this means is the company has focused heavily on quality and attention to detail, for example, ensuring that baby wear has poppers instead of buttons to make it easier to get on and off, while trousers have adjustable waists and extra leg room at the bottom.

"Our focus is on the core customer; they've told us they've got very busy lives, and what they want is clothing that is 'designed for life' - so good quality to last for life, but also to suit their busy lives," says Bettley.

He adds: "Over the last few years we've seen consumers say they don't just want cheap products, they want quality as well."

This focus on creating a "family brand" across children's and eventually adults' also means the retailer intends to steer clear of a fast fashion offer.

"In children's clothing we don't see ourselves as being too fashion forward, it's really those essential pieces for the wardrobe. As we move into adults, which there's no date for yet, I don't ever see us being fast fashion. In children's wear we're stopping at 13 years, because I think they become much more of a high street customer [at that age]."

Store plans
Initially, the Nutmeg brand will launch in 100 Morrisons stores and six Kiddicare stores, with plans to extend this to 130 stores by July, 150 by September and 200 this time next year.

The clothing space will take up, on average, 1,000 square feet in the stores. Bettley says that this is "small when compared to the competition", but will be adequate given its children's wear focus.

"Our view is that some of the big supermarket offers are really vast, and there's quite a bit of duplication and 'me too'. Getting back to the customer's busy life, they've got a few seconds to decide, so we want to have a really impactful, edited, co-ordinated ranging, that offers the customer full outfits that make them stop and go 'wow'. This allows them to make an easy purchase and not spend too long browsing."

Sourcing and team
Bettley has assembled a team of 50 people at the Nutmeg base in Leicestershire, which includes buying, merchandising and design, quality and sourcing functions, with most of the support functions coming from Morrisons' head office in Bradford.

The desire for the brand to have its own "handwriting" means the design is being done in-house, and the team is working with suppliers who can then execute those designs.

"Because we've just launched, almost from a standing start, our initial sourcing strategy has been to work with suppliers that are known to us as a team, well-established suppliers that we know can deliver the product at good quality."

In terms of which countries the range is coming from, Bettley says China is the biggest, then the Indian subcontinent with India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, and quite a large amount coming from Turkey.

In time, the clothing brand may look to use Morrisons' Hong Kong sourcing office, which is currently used for non-food, or it may work more directly with manufacturers. "But at the moment, it's a mix of agents and manufacturers that we're familiar with and we know can give the service we need".

The opportunity
Bettley says clothing was a "compelling argument" for Morrisons. Of the 11m customers passing through the retailer's doors each week, around 3m are buying children's clothing elsewhere. "Our initial ambition is to capture that customer and maintain their loyalty through the weekly food shop by offering them some clothing as well."

He is emphatic that the clothing offer should not distract from Morrisons' core business. "Morrisons is an amazingly successful food focused retailer, and that will always be the case. So my role, the role of my team, is to build for tomorrow. Customers are asking for clothing, but how do we put everything in place to have a clothing offer while not distracting from the core business?"

One solution has been for the brand to outsource elements of the business such as IT and supply chain systems, which has allowed it to be "a bit more simple, a bit more flexible and agile".

Coming from a high street background, with roles at Peacocks and Poundstretcher, Bettley says one of the big changes he has noticed is in the "landscape of footfall," as "customers seem to be moving away from the high street, moving online and to supermarkets.

"So I think in terms of customer footfall, supermarkets seem the right place to put a clothing offer together."

Yet challenges remain. While Bettley believes there is growth in the children's wear market because children grow and everybody buys clothing for their children, the fashion market for women and men is more challenging.

"I think that in women's wear, what really helps is a really hot fashion trend, and I think that over the last couple of years, there's not really been much that everybody's bought in to. So I think, in the absence of that, the spend has been more discretionary, so the focus has been on essentials."

He adds that people's discretionary spend has moved away from clothing and into things like electrical goods and leisure, so "we've got to work a lot harder to get that disposable income from consumers."

While Bettley admits the supermarket clothing space is "very competitive and the other supermarkets are doing a very good job," he remains confident that Morrisons' clothing offer will be successful.

"I think there is footfall there, and there are customers who want to buy clothing. If we offer it to them, I think we can get them to spend it with us instead of going to the competition. For sure, it will take us a long time to get to the level of any of the other supermarkets, but that's our aspiration."