It’s feeling a little bit like a repeat of autumn 2008 on the high street. Each week seems to bring another swathe of administrations and store closure announcements. While this paints a pretty bleak picture, it seems that marketing and brands are playing a big part in the recovery strategies of struggling retailers.
In the £24.5m deal carved out by Argos and Homebase owner Home Retail Group to buy Habitat, it acquired the exclusive rights to the Habitat brand and its design brands, but it kept only three high profile stores out the 33-strong estate.
The brand is what is valuable and will remain. The interesting thing will be what Home Retail Group chooses to do with it. How well does the Habitat brand fit into its portfolio is debatable but there is definitely scope for it to be tied into Argos and Homebase in some way.
Home Retail Group could operate Habitat as a catalogue and online retailer in its own right but there is also scope to sell it through Argos, which could become the exclusive retailer of Habitat furnishings. There is also just about enough scope for it do something similar in Homebase.
In the case of Jane Norman – the high street fashion retailer that also fell into administration this week – early interest from Debenhams was over the brand not its stores.
Thorntons, which announced that up to 180 stores could close as it looks to “capitalise on Thorntons’ brand strength”.
It has also split the role of former marketing director Peter Wright into two roles. One will look after retail and commercial operations and the other will have full responsibility for marketing.
It is not yet clear who that person will be but handing full responsibility for marketing and brand to one person signals the increasing importance marketing will have in Thorntons’ three year recovery plan.
It will need a strong and consistent marketing and brand strategy to encourage consumers to alter their perceptions and shopping habits towards its new positioning.
Back in 2008 when Woolworths met its demise it was bought by the Shop Direct Group, and revived as an online proposition sitting alongside Very.co.uk and Littlewoods.co.uk.
While it lives on, the magic of the brand was lost and it has barely seen the light of day since. I only hope that the Habitat brand doesn’t disappear into obscurity in the same way.