Fashioning a Fantastic Career
Fashion has had its ups and downs like any industry in the past few years and with more potential clouds on the horizon in terms of cotton prices and a squeeze on consumer spending. However, there are plenty of companies out there that are thriving under the circumstances and in this feature we hear from the people in the know just how they've managed it.
Q: What are you most excited about in terms of your company's plans for the coming year?
The online player: BrandAlley
Against an extremely tough economic backdrop BrandAlley sales grew 101% in 2010 with our membership numbers exceeding 2 million by the end of the year. Our popularity continues to grow with 2,000 new members joining each day and we are aiming to double sales again this year.
In addition to our 5 or 6 "flash sales" each day we are also going to be adding an online catalogue to our site. This will still have products at 70% off RRP but will be available to members all the time not just for a few days. We launched Le Lab in February, which allows members to vote for their favourite emerging designers and which pieces from their pre-collections they want to have made. This will create a bespoke catalogue exclusive to BrandAlley members. We are really excited about this as it is a step forward in truly social shopping as well as being a fantastic platform for fledgling talent in the fashion space.
Onwards and upwards: Phase Eight
Retail Operations Director
This year we'll have around 40+ projects opening, including stores and concessions. So far this year, we've opened in Westfield White city, Market Harborough, Reading and Carmarthen.
The history of the company has been very much around market towns, but as we've expanded the company, our product ranges have increased and our brand has become more exposed to the public, we've made a move into more 'general locations' such as Lakeside, Bluewater, Meadowhall, and shortly Westfield White City. We also opened at One New Change this year, which has been very successful for us, so we're moving into the city as well.
A global viewpoint: H&M
There is always something new happening at H&M! The H&M group's continued expansion is very exciting, as is our continued focus on our sustainability work and in making products with an added sustainability value, such as our recently launched H&M Conscious Collection for women, men and children made from more sustainable materials such as organic cotton, recycled polyester and Tencel.
In 2011 H&M plans to open a net total of around 250 new stores. New markets for 2011 were/are: Romania (March), Croatia (April), Singapore (August) and, via franchise, Morocco and Jordan (autumn). Expansion is planned for all H&M markets in 2011, with China, the UK and the USA being the countries which are expected to be the largest expansion markets for this year.
Q: What has enabled your company to thrive amid the economic turmoil?
The BrandAlley model perfectly fits with the new "savvy shopper" that has emerged since the downturn. Consumers are now boasting about what they save rather than what they spend. Our members view BrandAlley as a way to have a stylish lifestyle and buy designer brands at more affordable price.
We have also launched a new marketing campaign with the strapline "the possibilities are endless" to highlight the fact that our members can achieve stylish living across all aspects of their lives; fashion, beauty, home and travel, which has been really well received and is a great reflection of where we are heading as a business.
Retail Operations Director
Our new locations are certainly helping our exposure. We've been known in the past as a sort of unknown brand and although customers who have gone into our stores get very much into the product, they may not have known who Phase Eight were before. The website and new locations in high footfall areas are helping there. Also, the product strategy over the past three years has changed quite considerably. We have now, which we never had in the past, an 'open to buy' (OTB) plan so whereas before the range would be bought in and that would be it for the season, now we have an opportunity to buy back in repeats, bestsellers, maybe in new colours, or maybe trial new things as the season goes on so what the customer sees is newness all the time.
It's simple: our business concept of fashion and quality at the best price. At H&M we have ongoing design and buying throughout the year to ensure we get the right fashion at the right time. Buying is continuously adapted to the prevailing market conditions and is guided by information from the stores about what is selling well.The production offices ensure that buyers place their orders with the right suppliers, and that goods are manufactured at the right price, are of good quality and are delivered at the right time, and they also check that they are manufactured under good working conditions. H&M also has the financial and organisational strength to decide for itself when the company feels the economic conditions are right for growth and expansion into new countries.
Q: How would you describe the working culture of your company?
We are a relatively young company having launched in the UK in 2008 but our headcount has grown quickly to over 70. It is a fast paced company and with so much going on it is certainly never dull. We have some fantastic teams scouring the world for the very best brands and some very talented creative minds making sure that our delivery is excellent. We also have a wonderful service team who are always very busy but whom our members shower with praise because of the hard work they put in to make the shopping experience at BrandAlley as good as it can be.
There are a lot of young energetic people in the business who are really making a mark with their forward thinking and quick turnaround on ideas and implementation; Online never stands still and neither can we.
Retail Operations Director
As with a lot of companies, we look our people have a passion for the product and a passion for the brand. We like entrepreneurial people - we're a business that's full of structure but we allow stores to make a lot of their own decisions. Of course we give them focus and direction but within those boundaries we would expect them to make their own decisions to make their store successful. This comes from our history of having smaller stores in market town locations, where every store is very different and we've kept that ethos going throughout the business as we've got bigger and bigger. We're a growing brand and one that's thats gong places. We've got 30-40 projects going on every year as part of our three-year plan and we haven't even started on the international growth, which will begin this year. We also have a lot of loyalty in the business, people who have been with us 15 - 20 years which is a real testament to the brand - as the company's grown, we've grown our people with it.
H&M has a strong corporate culture, the H&M spirit, which is based on a number of values that describe in simple terms how we want to work. H&M is guided by these values, rather than manuals. Our corporate culture is rooted in our business concept (fashion & quality at the best price). H&M believes in people. Our basic values include keeping things simple, entrepreneurial spirit, and constant improvements. Sustainability is a natural part of our daily work. H&M employees are given plenty of freedom to make their own decisions and to take responsibility. The commitment of our staff plays a major role in the success of H&M.
H&M principally recruits internally. We believe in the importance of shop floor experience, which is often regarded as a door opener to the rest of the company.
Job rotation is common within H&M. This means that duties may vary within the store, but also that staff can rotate between stores and countries. When we expand into new countries and open new stores, we get colleagues from established H&M stores to help us.
This is an effective way of spreading H&M's business concept and values, and at the same time provides a development opportunity for experienced H&M staff. We constantly work on skills development and the largest part of our training is carried out within our own organisation. The training covers aspects such as customer service, merchandising and leadership.
In order to show its appreciation and to encourage long-term engagement H&M has started a reward programme for all employees. The H&M Incentive Program includes all employees on the same basic principles regardless of age, position or salary level.