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Will French Connection learn that reinvention is a journey – not a destination?

Chris Field
Chris Field

Politics is preventing French Connection from getting its act together and, after 5 years of losses, it may soon be too late.

Far from me to comment on how hard it will be for the company to come back, but I can focus on the idea of relevance, because it challenges us all.

French Connection is just one retail brand that is no longer relevant enough to save it from going into receivership or being bought. There are at least five brands up for sale at the moment suffering from the same problem; all good brands, many with great heritage, but sharing a loss of relevance.

Relevance is generally talked about in connection to millennials, on the assumption that all retail now has to appeal to the generation that is blamed for why retail has become very complex. But it’s not just millennials that are too hard to call; it’s everyone. Even the army of over 60s – who will often write a cheque to a mail order company and wait over a week to receive their goods – are acting unpredictably, and shifting more of their spend away from the store.

The customer is no longer a figurehead monarch, but king of the castle. They are perfectly happy to smash the 10 commandments of retail and reserve the right to make up new rules as they go along. In this environment, a brand that has lost its unique identifiers and its core customer base is in real trouble. Even if FCUK finds its feet again, it will have to contend with the rigours of fast fashion where it currently isn’t. It will need to build customer-sensitive IT systems ,which it lacks, and rediscover a core of customers who are currently shopping elsewhere.

A loss of relevance is writ large right now for a number of retailers but it affects us all. Brand names, missions, products, services, customers, markets, channels, competitors – each and every one needs constant attention. The old hard rule that said don’t get distracted, just stick to your knitting no longer works. You may already be knitting a noose for your own neck, and you may need no help from your competitors to pull the gallows’ lever.

Don’t they always say that it’s a lot easier to revive an existing brand than start a new one? Hmm…I’m not so sure now. We are seeing new brands get big within three years, while we are just about to be told that Amazon sells more clothing in the US than Macys.

Reinvention as a tough, continuous journey because it requires a change of heart as well as mind. Most businesses don’t get it; they simply focus on the share price horizon and work towards that. This is why so many retailers cannot sustain their recovery. It’s time everyone learned to shapeshift.

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