Fashion News

Event Report: An Evening with Alan White

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The Fashion Network industry events started again on Tuesday 4th September 2012 with a full house at Thomas Street restaurant.
The first in our Retail series was an evening with Alan White, CEO of N Brown Group, to talk about multi-channel and what the future holds for retailers.
In 1999 Alan joined Littlewoods plc. As group finance director which had revenues of £2.5bn from home shopping catalogues, the Index and Littlewoods stores, football pools, Shop! television shopping channel and an extensive financial services business.

Alan has been CEO since 2002 and during this period the operating profits have risen from £63m to over £100m and online sales from 3% to 50% total sales.
Alan graduated with a law degree from Warwick University and then qualified as a chartered accountant with Arthur Andersen, before joining Sharp Electronics for 5 years in a senior financial role. He also sits on the board of Topps Tiles plc. as a non-executive director, a role he previously held with JD Sports plc.


An overview of the evening’s discussion…..

What were some of the biggest challenges faced by N Brown group during the economic downturn?

The increase in cotton prices and minimum wages in the Far East had a significant impact on the business as well the Eurozone crisis.

If you look at the figures, consumer spending has actually gone up every year but that spend is redirected to things like home entertainment rather than clothing.

Having said that, a recession is a good opportunity to re-assess your business and come out stronger and fitter. N Brown is currently in good shape with clothing prices set to come down in autumn.

How have N Brown embraced new technology and the digital evolution?

The catalogue is really now the dinosaur of retail and 58 % of N Brown business is from online.

N Brown now has mobile enabled websites and 12 % of online sales come through mobile, half of those are tablets and half smart phones.

As more and more brands turn their attention to online and mobile, N Brown are expanding their Simply Be and High and Mighty stores, what prompted this? Is their success because both are niche retailers?

There are lots of consumers that still want the social experience of shopping and a brand should be any time, any place, anywhere. The store is and will be an integral part of N Browns retail strategy in the future.

N Brown focuses on niche product like plus size and 82 % of plus size apparel is bought on the high street, so it makes sense that Simply Be has a store presence

We’re also clever with where we open our stores. As we’ve always been ultimately a mail order business, we know exactly where our customers are and what they are buying. So we know that a high percentage of our plus size shoppers are in the areas where we’ve located the Simply Be stores.

How do you think multi-channel will develop in the future?

Mobile will be key for the future of retail.

N Brown are still in the early stages of in-store logistic development but we will start to see till-less stores and tap and pay where payment is made with a smartphone.

Click and collect will develop and become more prevalent, stores will offer 24/7 pick-up services and brands will have dedicated click and collect stores.

What are your thoughts on social media?

Social media is still a relatively unproven channel and I think we’re at the beginning rather than the end. It’s definitely a powerful tool and N Brown does use social media for all of their brands. Interestingly we have more followers/likes in the US that we do in the UK.

I think social media is very important for handling any negativity, but as far as sales are concerned, it’s still hard to measure.

Do you think the retail market is becoming saturated?

No, but N Brown obviously has a big advantage with the number of brands we carry.

There will always be staples that brands offer that are very similar, like for example a black polo shirt, a pair of chinos etc, but N Brown offers customers a huge number of options and the customer is always looking for newness. The desire for ‘fashionability’ will always be prevalent amongst fashion consumers.

Thank you to Alan White and Thomas St restaurant. If you have any questions about this event or future events, please contact

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