He’s got the look

High street clothing brand, New Look has stolen market share from its European rivals by offering “accessible fashion”. But as Alicia Buller asks, can it repeat the trick in image-conscious Dubai?

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By  Alicia Buller Published  July 2, 2006

|~|56-Phil-Wrigley-biog-shot-2.jpg|~|Makeover: Wrigley plans to replace all of New Look’s 500-plus clothing stores over the next four years with much bigger outlets.|~|High street clothing brand, New Look has stolen market share from its European rivals by offering “accessible fashion”. But as Alicia Buller asks, can it repeat the trick in image-conscious Dubai? The last few months have seen an army of the world’s retail glitterati descend on Dubai, often with the requisite regional expansion plans poking out of their pockets. And with 10 million tourists set to descend upon the city every year by 2015, it is little wonder that so many retail hounds have already parked up at their next hotspot. But it’s a late-entry drum roll, then, for New Look, the UK’s rising high street fashion chain which only last week announced its local franchisee handshake with Dubai-headquartered retail giant, the Landmark Group. The newly-partnered firms plan to launch around 70 New Look fashion stores in the region within the next two years. But what took them so long? “Well, we’re just dopey,” admits Phil Wrigley, New Look’s executive officer. Nevertheless, his firm is currently the apple’s eye of the UK’s retail sector, having climbed its way into the shopper’s big league with a 4.2% share of the market. This puts it just behind first- and second-place British bellwethers, Marks and Spencer and Next. In addition, Wrigley exclusively tells Arabian Business that New Look topped the shoe retailers chart in the UK for the first time ever in May 2006 (and there’s nothing dopey about that). What’s more, since 2004, the firm has increased its value by an estimated US$900 million, up to US$2 billion, having been originally purchased by private equity firms Apax and Permira for US$1.4 billion. At the time, debt was raised and invested in the firm’s in-house design teams, celebrity-endorsed branding campaigns and bigger retail spaces. From that moment, it only took two years for New Look to take a hungry bite out of every single one of its UK high-street competitors. And while the firm’s peers drowned in the aftermath of flagging consumer confidence, New Look continued to re-open store after store. And much of this success has been ascribed to the enthusiastic captaincy of Wrigley. There’s no denying that the CEO is full of beans today, and in a neat red-tie-and-white-shirt ensemble he’s looking very much like the man who put the oomph into a fashion success story. Wrigley says that his products are bestsellers because they fall into the category of “accessible fashion”, and, because of this, he is now targeting the mall space and branching out to “the needs of everyone who is after a good deal.” And in testament to this, over the next four years, the New Look CEO plans to have shut every one of the 527 stores he started with, while re-opening his brand in bigger shops as close to the original stores as possible. Wrigley hopes to lean on Landmark’s regional expertise to help make his UK-born brand a local success, starting − not unambitiously − with his first 10,000 square foot store in Deira City Centre. “New Look is all about brand execution, and Landmark will educate us on how to best to make this happen in the region. Landmark is a much bigger business than New Look,” he says. And, like New Look, the locally-owned Landmark group focuses on value-for-money − after all, ‘cheaper is chicer’, claims Wrigley’s customer website. But most vitally of all, both firms have all eyes on dominating the Middle East region. In fact, Landmark has already made massive inroads to this end, incorporating over 280 retail outlets across eight countries since 1973. “We want to be the world’s favourite retailer and obviously we can’t be the world’s favourite retailer if we are only based in the UK,” says Wrigley. And it is only now that all is in order at home, so to speak, that the firm has recently ventured into France and Belgium with the New Look brand. The company already has a presence of 212 smaller fashion boutiques trading under the brand ‘Mim’ in France. And Wrigley believes that New Look and Mim can trade alongside each other seamlessly. It’s no secret that British retailers are increasingly looking to enter new markets as they face intense competition and price deflation in their home market − and New Look’s ambitious international expansion plans reflect this. “We started our international philosophy by growing more in Europe, by placing new look branches in Paris along with our Mim brand. And now Dubai; there’s a ton of ex-pats here and a mix of lots of cultures so it will be interesting to see how our new customers respond to our ranges,” says Wrigley. “Dubai is our first outing outside of Europe, and our springboard to the rest of the Middle East and the Far East. And Landmark is the perfect partner because of their extensive reach. We view this as a low risk and high potential deal. It’s our first-ever joint venture. We’re going into this with very much a joint venture mentality. We’re just about to sign the lease and then we’ll work on the details.” And a thirst for regional sales are not all that the two companies share in common. New Look, unlike many of its competitors at home, is entirely privately owned. A good move, too, because data up to March last year shows that while New Look like-for-like sales grew 9.8% with total sales of US$813 million − publicly-owned Marks and Spencer and Next trailed miserably behind. “We grew rapidly once we became private because we were more free to make decisions and execute the new vision – we could be much more adventurous,” says Wrigley. The New Look CEO is very clear-cut in his priorities, and this may just be what enables him to cut in above his competitors who are already sitting comfortably in the region: Top Shop, Forever 21, Morgan, Bershka, Gap, and − oh yes − Next, and Marks and Spencer. “Everybody has some sort of knowledge of clothes and everyone wants a good deal whether they are rich or poor. You just have to give people what they want,” he says. “Our shoes have been really successful, for example, because it’s all about bringing out the right shoe at the right time. Fashion has to be fresh. Some women visit us once a week because they know we will always have something new. You have to be immediate with fashion. We deal in ‘relevant fashion’ because we want to deliver fashionable clothes faster than the rest of the competition. At low prices.” Wrigley says that having good relationships with suppliers is crucial to keep up with the market. “We have a brilliant supply chain and good long-standing relationships with our suppliers. And ethically we have a good record too, not particularly from any moral standpoint but more because this is conducive to consistently good relationships and these are vital in the retail business,” says the CEO. “Speed is crucial for making the product sell and for being at the crest of fashion’s waves.” Wrigley says that while it can take three months to get jewellery in from the Far East to the UK, footwear is a real success because it only takes six weeks to make it from scratch. “This is because New Look already has the moulds ready for all shoes and a team of in house designers who understand the production and design process. That knowledge adds to the speed of the cycle,” he claims. New Look started as a family business with competitive prices and fashion appeal. But while the stores used to be 3000 feet, they’ve now grown to as large as 28.000 feet as the company takes on more clothing ranges. “The average age of women who shop at New Look are 29 years old, and while they think ‘great, New Look provides some great clothes for me − they are now thinking ‘I want clothes for the rest of my family’. Shops such as Gap and Hennes and Mauritz have full ranges for the family and that’s what we want to do. We want to branch out of women’s only clothing,” explains Wrigley. But New Look is not just about affordability and range: “We also want to be increasingly fashion-credible, which is why we brought in Kelly Brooke to model our swimwear selection, which was really successful. And we try to find fun things for the customer to do. The ranges were a little more expensive than usual, but not much. Customers like to take part in fun things and they’re willing to pay for it − sometimes.” But while New Look has been the very epitome of a fashion retail business model − beating the old-time UK high-street merchants at their own game − only time will tell whether Wrigley can bring his tried-and-tested dynamism to the Middle East with equal success. “I am very excited about New Look in the Middle East – whenever I come to Dubai it makes me smile because there’s always something new and the vision is incredible. It’s like a testament to mankind’s achievements.” New Look will return to the market sooner or later, unless it is bought by a private equity outfit bigger than Apax and Permira combined, but Wrigley is in no hurry; especially if his firm is a success in the region and he can carry on cutting debts to HSBC and the Royal Bank of Scotland. When pressed as to the secret of his success, Wrigley is somewhat esoteric. “It’s important to watch what people are wearing. This is key,” he says. “This is not the first time I have been to Dubai and I will be returning often. Clothes without people are irrelevant and soulless. My wife sometimes hits me for watching people and what they are wearing. I find it fascinating. In fact, I’m obsessed with it.” ||**||

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