Primark sets sights on conquering America

Apr 24, 2014

Primark believes it can succeed in America where other British retailers have not. The discount fashion chain’s parent, Associated British Foods (ABF), announced it would open its first store in the U.S. in Boston toward the end of 2015.

The company, which is headquartered in the Republic of Ireland, bills itself as offering up-to-the-minute fashion at value-for-money prices. It currently operates 271 stores in nine Western European countries. Its first U.S. store will be located in the space that was previously home to Filene’s Department Store.

Primark also announced it would open additional stores in the Northeast by mid-2016 and all its locations will be supplied by a warehouse in the region.

"We’ll open some stores, we’ll start to learn, we’ll see what sort of reception we get and we’ll take it from there," George Weston, ABF’s CEO, told Reuters.

Sales for the company have more than doubled over the past five years and revenue over the past year increased 22 percent. Primark sells women’s, men and kid’s clothing, accessories and footwear as well as home goods.

Maureen Hinton, a retail analyst at Conlumino, believes Primark will find success in America.

"It is going in as a young fashion brand with a very defined price edge on competitors that sets it apart," Ms. Hinton told The Guardian. "But it has all the trappings of the big stores and the feel of a more expensive fashion brand. I am sure that the likes of Forever 21 are a bit worried."

What will Primark find different when it comes to doing business in the U.S. versus the U.K., Ireland and the other markets where it operates? What will it take for Primark to succeed in America?

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9 Comments on "Primark sets sights on conquering America"

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Bob Phibbs

I would ask, “How much demand is there for cheap teen apparel?” H&M and Forever 21 got here first and while they might be cleaning the GAP and Abercrombie’s clock, their target Millennial market is not that inclined to want to buy new stuff.

I understand they are profitable and have a bunch of stores but the US has plenty of places to buy too much of the same thing – cheap apparel designed to fit into a price point – that the competition will be fierce.

And don’t think social media will ignore their profits at the cost of workers in developing countries.

Kelly Tackett
A British colleague of mine described shopping at Primark as a special kind of hell, one that is strangely addictive and sells shirts for GBP2. Not only do I agree with her read on the Primark experience, I also think it’s this special kind of hell that will be so appealing to US deal-seeking, value-loving shoppers. It’s why F21 and TJX have been so successful and why Primark has the opportunity to succeed where its Brit predecessors (save Topshop) have failed. That being said, while Primark has conquered continental Europe, the US has a much more competitive landscape in the value apparel retail space. H&M, Joe Fresh, Uniqlo all have ramped up expansion in the US. Even compatriot Tesco is trying to get in on the action with its F&F clothing label. These retailers are taking advantage of a US market that continues to experience bifurcated consumer spending, with shoppers either trading up to upscale department stores and apparel specialists or trading down to value retailers. While the US market should have the capacity to absorb another value player, the insertion of Primark into the equation is unlikely to have a profound near-term impact simply because of the limited scope.… Read more »
Gene Detroyer

Primark is successful in 9 different countries (Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, Portugal, Spain, the Netherlands and the UK). Each country has its own shopping culture. (Target — please note) . There is no monolithic consumer in Europe and these companies understand that. The success of international retailers in the U.S. is that they understand that each country is different and do their homework before they enter the market and then make necessary adjustments.

And often times because they are looking, listening, and studying, they are making gains that U.S. retailers aren’t, because U.S. retailers say “This is the way we do it.” and don’t look deep enough into current trends, shopper behavior and motivations. Too many U.S. retailers keep thinking “we will teach the shopper” while the international start-ups in the U.S. are saying “the shoppers will teach us.”

Gene Hoffman
Gene Hoffman
3 years 4 months ago

American consumers are always looking for a new clothing sunrise. Primark knows it must offer that, but doing it initially in yesterday’s underwear (Filene’s space) could make its entry challenge more difficult.

I admire Primark’s conviction to succeed in the old American colony, which has inspired this thought:

Somebody said it couldn’t be done.
Primark with a chuckle replied,
Maybe it can’t but probably it can,
And how will we know till we’ve tried.

James Tenser

I think there’s a fair amount of latent demand for “cheap chic” and “disposable” fashion. It’s interesting to me because it moves apparel closer to the FMCG model of fast turns, consumability and more frequent shopping visits.

So why wouldn’t Primark give it a shot in the colonies? My only concern might be the brand itself. No disrespect intended, but will “Primark” carry much resonance with American shoppers? It sounds corporate to me, not like a fashion name. If ABF needs to undertake a from-scratch awareness campaign here in the U.S. anyway, shouldn’t it consider creating a whole new brand too?

Kuldeep Mathur
Kuldeep Mathur
3 years 4 months ago

It’s completely different ball game altogether when it comes to trading in the US, especially in retail clothing. There is fierce competition in both luxury and cheap and cheerful retail. Being just cheap is not going to make Primark successful; they have to come up with a different niche model in the value chain. It would be better to start through the ecommerce channel and build the brand before opening any bricks and mortar stores.

Craig Sundstrom

I think all of us here realize success is elusive, with many steps – like adequate financing, etc. – being necessary, but by no means sufficient; so with that in mind, maybe it’s better to look at ways Primark can fail:

  • assume the name will mean something to everybody – or at least somebody…it doesn’t;
  • assume because it worked it Germany and France et al. it will work in the U.S. (or, similarly, b/c it worked in Boston it will work in Chicago);
  • assume that once people have found you, they’ll stay with you…you’re dealing with a demographic that thinks “loyalty” is a new brand they’ve not yet heard of;
  • saddle yourself with locations that aren’t good but rather (simply) available;
  • get caught up in some face-losing cultural/legal/environmental controversy.
Kai Clarke

Competitiveness. From the internet, to larger, more-focused and efficient retailers. Primark will need to have American-centric buying, combined with aggressive pricing, online offerings that are updated daily (or better), and a clear, focused offering that American’s can consider part of their own.

Julie Stoner
Julie Stoner
3 years 4 months ago

I shop Primark when I visit friends in England. The store in their town is in a mall and looks trendy. It has a large selection of women’s, men’s, and children’s clothing, accessories, sleepwear, outerwear, shoes, and home goods. There are plenty of cashiers so the queue moves quickly and the associates are polite and pleasant. The prices are incredibly good.

That’s what they need to do to succeed here. This is NOT an H&M or TJ Maxx duplication. Everything about that store is trendy and selection is superb. Mums, grans, teens, and men can shop there with satisfaction. It is staffed and stocked well, unlike many American stores.

Taking over a vacant Filene’s basement? No. They need their own design and footprint to create company recognition. And please come to Dallas-Ft. Worth, Primark. Soon!


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