Failed brands try to fashion a new life online

Laura Ashley’s new owner is Gordon Brothers, the restructuring specialist, which is typically drafted in to shift the leftover stock for defunct brands. 

Its view, according to Nick Taylor, a senior managing director, is that e-commerce is only one pillar of its wider strategy that he calls “asset-less”. He wants to expand its portfolio of licences and franchises and strike more wholesales deals.  

“Through strategic licensing arrangements and specialist companies, a brand can delegate many of a retailer’s complexities, obligations, sourcing, distribution, and logistics,” Taylor says. 

It is not just the recent wave of brands that have sought a life online. BHS, once owned by Sir Philip Green, launched online a few months after the high street chain went bust in 2016 after Qatar-based owner Al Mana bought its website and its international arm. However, they announced it was shutting down two years later. The Woolworths brand was also resurrected online for several years after the company collapsed in 2008. 

Selling online is not exactly a moneymaker. Discount fashion chain Primark, for example, has been resolute in its refusal to sell online because it would erode its already thin profit margins. The cost of delivery and warehousing all add up. Moreover, losing their physical presence would have been detrimental to sales for most brands in the first instance, too. 

“Most people are looking at businesses through the only eyes they’ve got and they are rooted in the past,” says Hyman. 

“What that leads them to conclude is that if they can ditch the liabilities, everything will be alright. More than ever before, no one is owed a living in the market that is unfolding. It would be really naive for people to think that being online means more than it does.”

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