Monsoon moves to lift the gloom

High-street retailer revamps clothes to reverse falling sales

Writes Julia Snoddy
Sunday 05 August 2001 00:00

Monsoon, the high-street retailer famed for its brightly coloured clothes and beaded bags, is radically revamping its clothing ranges in a bid to stop the sales drought it is suffering.

The group, which also owns the Accessorize chain, has admitted it needs to improve its casual wear and tailored products and is continuing to review its designs and marketing strategy.

"The day wear is not good enough," said Andrew May, Monsoon's finance director. "We need to improve that area. Customers in sufficient quantities don't want what we are providing."

The new designs for the autumn, which will hit the shops this week, will include more day-wear products with a greater emphasis on "basic" items to go with the "high fashion" items. In the autumn, Monsoon promises there will be a wide range of colours, from lilac to teal, moss green to heather.

One analyst said: "Monsoon is very good on evening wear and children's wear, but they have got to get to grips with the basics that are part of the range but are not growing very fast. They don't have the right range that appeals to the customer base."

In the past couple of years, Monsoon has enjoyed an increase in its like-for-like sales, but that was only marginal. Evening and children's wear ranges have sold well but the day wear has not been popular with customers.

The group now has more Accessorize shops than Monsoon – 144 compared to 137 respectively – and Accessorize has been driving the profits. The group last week posted a 6 per cent increase in profits to £24.3m for the year, on an 11 per cent increase in total sales to £172.1m.

The group, whose casual clothes have been particularly dull over the past couple of years, say analysts, appointed a new group managing director, Rose Foster, three weeks ago to turn the brand around. Ms Foster worked for Next for 18 years and spent the past two years as retail sales director at New Look. Ms Foster replaced John Spooner who is now international development director.

"Ultimately, it is Rose Foster's job to make sure everything, including the Monsoon day wear range, improves," said Mr May. Monsoon, which modernised its stores last year, has also hired brand consultancy Brandsmiths to research what its customers want and to help market itself more effectively.

The group plans to launch an advertising campaign in an attempt to dispel the public perception that the company still sells "hippy" and "ethnic" clothes. Mr May says the group has not had a hippy or ethnic style since 1980.

The advertising agencies are working with the concept of "fusion", a word which Monsoon said sums up the company and its influences, which come from all over the world. Monsoon has not yet decided what form the campaign will take or how much should be spent. Mr May refused to comment on the cost of the brand consultants.

The group, which was set up in 1973 and now has 300 Monsoon and Accessorize stores, is only the latest retailer to experience problems with its clothing range. Laura Ashley has found difficulties trying to get its female fashion range back on track after it fell out of favour with consumers.

And the beleaguered and stumbling Marks & Spencer giant has had to watch its profits slide after several failed relaunches of its fashion ranges.

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