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[7 comments]

British fashion retailer follows familiar script in U.S.

March 27, 2014

Hobbs, described as one of Kate Middleton's (AKA the Duchess of Cambridge) favorite retailers, is moving into the U.S. market after agreeing to open shops inside of five Bloomingdale's.

Opening shops inside an established department store has seemed to work well for fellow British merchant Topshop, which first opened in 14 Nordstrom locations back in 2012. Hobbs also opened a website in the U.S. last year. Clare Dobbie, marketing and e-commerce director for the retailer, told Women's Wear Daily that sales have been "taking off like a rocket" since Hobbs.com went live.

What can Americans expect of Hobbs in Bloomingdale's? The retailer describes itself: "Part English eccentric, part fearless fashion voice, Hobbs blends timeless techniques with modern ideas. The result? Luxury fabrications, contemporary tailoring and elegant daywear — all with an intelligent British twist."

While optimism abounds for Hobbs in the U.S., The Telegraph describes the retailer as "troubled" following disappointing Christmas holiday sales. "Customers are prepared to pay above average prices but we can't be too greedy on what we charge them," company chairman Phil Wrigley told the paper.

Discussion Questions:

Will Hobbs be successful in its attempt to crack the U.S. market? Do you expect to see many other retailers from outside the U.S. partnering with merchants here to gain entry to the American market?

While we value unfettered opinion, we urge you to show respect and courtesy for people or companies about whom you comment. Keep in mind that this is a public, professional business discussion. RetailWire reserves the right to edit or refuse the publication of remarks that we deem unsuitable. We may also correct for unintended spelling and grammatical errors.

Instant Poll:

How likely is Hobbs to succeed in the U.S.?

Comments:

With the way fashion "socially" trends today, there will be more and more retailers from all over the world opening hard channels (oop, hip for "stores") here in the States. We will also see more US-based retailers heading to more global spots. This US shift has been underway for years - but as retailers need to get in more wallets, all of this "go find the money" positioning will continue.

It is good to see. It is a sign that the store - especially in fashion - is as strong as ever and not "gone" as some had predicted.

Last point (really) - retailers do need to make sure their store processes are fine tuned to serving these unique shoppers, from the service levels and the inventory on-hand to the synchronization with their other channels (especially with showing if items are available in the stores).

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Tom Redd, Vice President, Strategic Communications, SAP Global Retail Business Unit

"Customers are prepared to pay above average prices, but we can't be too greedy on what we charge them," said company chairman, Phil Wrigley.

Greed has nothing to do with it. Make sure the price matches the experience! If they simply set up a shop with merch and some signage letting the customer figure out the rest, they better prepare for a price sensitive reception.

If, on the other hand, they add some well-trained staff and a great fitting room experience to the mix, they'll be able to sell at a premium. Customers need to understand the value behind the price tag. The only way to do that is to give them a premium buying experience.

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Marge Laney, President, Alert Technologies, Inc.

I'm not sure what's new about this, but there's a recent case study just ahead of Hobbs: Jack Wills. JW is commonly known in England as "Abercrombie UK style." They've got at least 5 stores in some very high-end locations like Nantucket Island. Long story short, I don't think they're doing very well.

European companies seem to think it's a good idea to get into the US, and for some, like H&M, it's true. But ask Tesco if it's easy, or if Euro retail even works here at all. Uniqlo (Japanese) is looking at opening stores AND buying J.Crew -- that may be the fast way in.

In any case, good luck, Hobbsie!

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Lee Peterson, EVP Creative Services, WD Partners

This mirrors the Nordstrom/TopShop partnership which launched a few years back, although TopShop is more widely known and successful of a brand in the States vs. Hobbs. It's going to boil down to the quality of clothing and the price points as well as the marketing efforts that Bloomingdale's puts into the partnership.

'SALSGPA1972'

Sure, if the brands can hold salt. This is a great way to introduce successful brands from other countries. Store-within-a-store is a win-win situation and the cost for entry/exit is low enough to make it worth a try; and that's my 2 cents.

Lee Kent, Brings Retail Executives Together to Meet.Learn.Profit, RetailConnections

Yes, bringing in successful higher-end designer retail makes sense. Awareness precedes the UK line, bringing in shoppers to stores. Stores - especially department stores - are finding it more challenging to give shoppers a reason to make the trip to the store, not just scan online offerings or casually browse for something interesting.

Makes sense for both sides if carefully selected designers work with the retailer to elevate the brand, and execute well. Stores have to differentiate well in this ever-challenging marketplace; an element of fine fashion cachet can add value for target consumers.

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Anne Bieler, Sr. Associate, Packaging and Technology Integrated Solutions

We are seeing this trend quite frequently with department stores and foreign retailers. Nordstrom is the obvious example with Mini Boden and TopShop/TopMan, but Bloomingdale's already has done a good job bringing in trendy foreign brands, including Maje and Sandro, both of which have gone on to open their own US stores. These partnerships help department stores quench US appetites for something new and different, thereby driving additional traffic and bolstering goodwill among consumers who increasingly will view the retail partner as a curator of the best brands.

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Kelly Tackett, Research Director, Planet Retail

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