Now putting aside my own football biases – I am intrigued by the acquisition. Last Monday, I came across an article in Forbes written by Katie Baron that I feel perfectly summarizes the pros and cons of Ashley’s recent buy. I agree with Baron that the fate of HoF could fall one of two ways.
One, HoF may potentially plunge into a “brand crisis.”
Or two, HoF could find success with an unconventional brand.
Both paths showcase the dangers and opportunity presented by a revolutionizing retail market, and specifically, the presence of younger generations in the retail sphere.
With a surge of Gen Z consumers entering the marketplace, companies are forced to consider their stance on current environmental and societal issues. Don’t believe me? Think again. Evidence of Gen Z’s influence can be seen across the globe with gigantic franchises such as Starbucks and McDonald’s, who recently eliminated the use of straws to limit their contribution to the one-use plastic crisis.
Consumers not only want to feel satisfied with their purchase, they want to know they are spending their money with responsible and relatable organizations.
With Mr. Ashley’s less-than-desirable reputation for running Sports Direct, public fallings-out with major football heroes, a disastrous regime with Newcastle United, refusal to pay liabilities to brands like Mulberry, and unfulfilling online orders made prior to Ashley’s deal – it’s likely that his ownership of HoF will not sit nicely with huge swathes of their potential customer base.
Along with their desire to “do good”, Gen Z consumers want brands that fit their lifestyle. As “brand celebrators”, they prefer brands that appeal to their personal tastes and tell a story.
The opportunity to “tell a story” opens the door for new brands and new experiences. This is where the opportunity lies for HoF. If Ashley can get the story right, there is a chance for success.
This is what I would do to “re-imagine” HoF and get it firing:
- Brand – he has mentioned “Harrods of the High Street” and I think this is a good aspiration, but it isn’t a top-end approach. “Of the high street” means playing to the towns and cities where the good stores are located, and of capturing the “upper middle” ground. Ashley’s customer base should span generations, be affluent, tech savvy, and forward thinking. As a result, the retail offering should be transformed to match his targets, with carefully crafted stories on targeted channels that showcase the new HoF.
- Product – out go the “me too” concessions that have their own retail spaces around the corner. They can be digital and play with an omni-channel fulfillment strategy. In comes more food, with casual dining spaces acting as an extension of local offices and a second home to residents. More neighborly, more curated and riper for the foodie fashionista. Up-and-coming brands can have pop-ups on a quarterly basis, and flexible space allows for a constant change.
- Experiences – more shows, more events, and product launches. Make the experience entertaining, somewhere you want to go on a weekend and see what is happening. Ensure gaming and tech is well featured, use the strength of their digital capability by showcasing smart home and the latest big box gadgets without having the headache of excess inventory. Like it? We’ll deliver for you next day!
Regardless of Ashely’s plans, a $90 million purchase is a good thing, saving 16,000 jobs in the process, and preserving a near 170-year-old icon of the UK High Street makes it even better. We can only hope that he doesn’t simply asset-strip them away to never-land, full of Slazenger, and piled high with stuff…that really is the road to nowhere.
What do you think Mr. Ashley should do with HoF? What do you think he will do?
Succeed or fail?
Looking at his history, odds are that he will make money – but not positive sentiment or long-lasting memories along the way. And when he gets his money back, then what?
Read Mike Ashley & House Of Fraser: Renegade Rescuer Or Branded Suicide?