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Nicola Frampton, a Non-Executive Director of Frasers Group, reveals how investment in bricks and mortar and an inspired elevation strategy is rejuvenating the high street
FRASERS Group made headlines in July by reporting record-breaking profits before tax of £344.8m, despite the well-chronicled challenges faced by the retail sector.
The company, which owns luxury destination Flannels as well as other major retailers such as Sports Direct and House of Fraser, seems to have bucked the recent trend of doom and gloom on the high street.
Luxury News Online spoke to Nicola Frampton, a member of the Board of Directors, about the company’s achievements amid tough trading conditions.
Nicola says the remarkable turnaround is the result of a five-year elevation strategy that aims to offer consumers the world’s best brands within an enhanced shopping environment.
“For us it’s all about the customer experience and being able to offer an unrivalled choice of desirable brands,” reveals Nicola, a straight-talking career professional who hails from the north of England.
“The future of retail is an environment where consumers can browse, eat and enjoy their time together. We are social animals and we benefit from the shared experience of shopping.
“The desire for a varied and interactive retail environment is one of the main driving forces for why we are investing so much effort in elevating our stores across the country.”
Nicola points to openings of large flagship stores earlier this year in Liverpool and Birmingham as prime examples of elevated stores.
“The new Flannels store in Liverpool offers shoppers a bar, restaurant and gym alongside established luxury brands such as Louboutin and Gucci, plus there are new brands such as Sporty and Rich. The store’s beauty hall has selfie-booths complete with wind machines, and upstairs there is an in-house dermatology studio.
“Our flagship Sports Direct stores typically contain a dry gym, sports bra fitting services, equipment-testing areas and even eSports halls.”
Frasers Group’s results certainly support the fact that shoppers seem willing to return to the high street since the end of the pandemic. The company’s UK sports retail revenue increased by 31.2%, which was largely due to a strong start after reopening following lockdowns. Premium lifestyle revenue increased by 43.6%, largely due to the opening of new Flannels stores, along with continued growth online and customers returning to existing stores.
The store portfolio, as disclosed in July, listed almost 1,000 stores across the UK and Ireland – and including Jack Wills, Evans Cycles, Game UK and USC. Frasers Group has also previously invested in luxury brands like Mulberry and Hugo Boss.
The company’s history traces back to a single sports store that was founded by retail tycoon Mike Ashley in Maidenhead in 1982.
Ashley has since handed over the reins to his son-in-law, Michael Murray, who is now CEO after being credited for overseeing the company’s elevation strategy.
Listening to Nicola it’s refreshing to hear her being passionate about the high street, although she is careful to also point out the importance of a strong online presence, hence the Frasers Group says it will also continue to invest in its digital capabilities.
“It could be argued that Generation Z scarcely knows any other way to shop than online — but driving footfall into bricks and mortar stores is a possibility made real by experiential shopping, which cannot be matched through impersonal online stores in isolation.” says Nicola.
“Social media is how you build awareness these days. It’s about sharing that experience. When the new Sports Direct store opened in Birmingham, it was all over social media. The local community will now be very aware that they’ve got one of these fantastic new Sports Direct flagship stores on their front doorstep.”
“What Michael Murray has been smart at doing is pivoting that digital experience and saying, ‘Well, how does that work in a bricks and mortar environment?'”
Nicola, who joined the Frasers Board in 2018, having previously been managing director of William Hill’s UK retail division, points out that Frasers Group has been willing to invest in flagship stores at key locations outside of the capital, something that few others have dared to do in recent years. In August the company announced it is to open three more luxury Flannels stores. These will have upwards of 80,000 square feet of floor space and will be located in Gateshead, Leeds and Cardiff.
The mantra as described by Nicola on behalf of previously underserved regional customers, is: “We’ve got money, we’ve got style, we’ve got ambition and we can afford luxury, but we don’t want to spend precious time to get to London and back.”
It’s also apparent that brand loyalty continues to be important to consumers despite the impact of the pandemic and the pressures associated with the cost of living.
Nicola says: “What you may find in challenging times is your footfall may stay the same, but instead of buying a pair of designer shoes, a customer might buy a lipstick by a luxury brand. This is known as the ‘lipstick effect’.
“We all still want to go somewhere beautiful and treat ourselves occasionally regardless of the present spending power. With this in mind and to help our customers, we offer a variety of price points at good, better and best.”
So are we currently witnessing shopping revolution?
“I don’t know whether it’s evolution or revolution,” says Nicola. “But the way we shop today is fundamentally changed beyond all recognition from even a decade ago.”
However, one thing seems clear. If you thought the High Street was dead, then think again.
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