Fenwick expects good reopening but slow recovery, sees opportunities ahead
As Fenwick prepares to reopen this month, its top executive has predicted “ a good opening, but a slow recovery as well”. Yet overall, he’s confident that the company is on the right track and should do well in the changed retail world of the future.
John Edgar, the CEO who took the helm during the first lockdown last April, told The Telegraph that he doesn’t think “there’s going to be this big, huge jump” in trading once consumers are allowed back in to non-essential stores.
That’s bad news for a company that saw losses widening in the year to January 2020 (to 47 million) and that will have had a tough time in the year to January 2021 given its under-developed webstore operations.
But Edgar’s task is to return the family-controlled company to profit (after more than a year of losses) at the toughest time ever for UK department store retail and he seems upbeat about that.
One section of his plan is to turn part of the Bond Street London flagship into offices with the planning permission the company received for this having pre-dated decisions by John Lewis and M&S to do the same with their Oxford Street flagships.
The newspaper said some industry observers think that Fenwick’s ownership of a number of valuable properties could also mean it may opt for sale and leaseback deals to shore up its finances. But Edgar said there are no plans to do so at present.
The executive, who has held senior roles at Boston Consulting Group, Harrods and Selfridges, said the business is actually financially strong and has a healthy balance sheet with no debt, which compares well to many other retailers.
He admitted that while the company has less cash than it had before Christmas, it still has "ample facilities to get us through whatever we foresee happening”.
And he feels confident that the business is making the right decisions strategically, including boosting the number of fashion brands it sells and investing in its online operations, a channel it had been very slow to enter.
That makes sense given sales figures online. After an initial shutdown of its embryonic web operation in the first lockdown, within six weeks of reopening for orders, Fenwick saw more online sales than it had done in the whole of 2019, Edgar told The Telegraph.
And he seems to think that with other department stores and premium specialist retailers struggling or failing, Fenwick could prosper via its physical stores. “As you can see, everybody else is dropping out of the high street. It does help that we are one of the few credible premium retailers left in the locations that we trade. We are the main show in town,” he said.
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