N Brown sales, profits drop, but tech and transformation plan are delivering
Diversified fashion e-tailer N Brown delivered full-year results for the period to the end of February on Thursday and it was no surprise that they were weaker than the previous financial year. But the company seemed upbeat for the future.
First, the numbers. Group revenue fell 13% to £728.8 million and product revenue was down 14.4% to £468.4 million. Adjusted EBITDA dropped almost 19% to £86.5 million and the adjusted EBITDA margin edged down to 11.9%. Statutory pre-tax profit plunged more than 72% to £30.1 million.
But total website sessions remained relatively high, despite a 55.7% reduction in marketing spend, “supported by our ability to pivot into the products the customer was looking for such as home office and garden”.
Conversion was lower in FY21 due to more customers browsing during the pandemic and the reduction in orders saw a “significant pivot from Clothing & Footwear to Home & Gift”. There was also “price sensitivity” in clothing & footwear.
CORE BRANDS GROW
But the firm said it made significant progress in its transformation, successfully completed a £100 million equity raise and improved its product revenue trajectory throughout the year. For instance product revenue was down nearly 26% in Q1 but recovered to be down only 4.3% in Q4. And the strategic brands on which it’s focusing actually delivered growth of 1.3% in the final quarter.
CEO Steve Johnson said: “Although we remain cautious, we are beginning to see some early signs of progress.”
In June last year, the company set out a new strategy and key to this is the company’s ongoing rationalisation of its portfolio to focus on its star brands. These include size inclusive fashion and beauty brand Simply Be that targets women aged between 25 and 45; Jacamo, which is the men's equivalent of Simply Be, although its age range goes up to 50; JD Williams, the own-label and third-party online shop that targets 45 to 65 year old women; Ambrose Wilson, the brand that reaches out to women aged 65+; and Home Essentials. This is an own-label and third-party offer targeting mothers age 25 to 45 to help them "dress their homes”.
It makes what was a sprawling brand portfolio more concise. Although the company still has other brands, it has reduced its total portfolio by 25% to nine labels. For instance, it closed the Figleaves e-store and that intimates offer is now available on Simply Be.
To support all this, the company “refreshed the creative style across apparel brands to support our brands' clearer, more focused propositions and to build stronger brand identities”. This came with new campaigns and an accelerated use of social media that has delivered "encouraging results”. During the year, revenue generated via social media was up 27%, with a total of 1.9m followers across Facebook and Instagram, of which 14% were new.
For the year ahead, the company said it’s “now focused on acquiring new customers in our core target segments, particularly those where N Brown is under-represented today”. The successful equity raise, will help here and it will expand the presence of the core retail brands through increased investment in brand-building activity and more specific, targeted activity through digital and social channels.
This will mean “a significant focus on social media for Simply Be and Jacamo, and a focus on broadcast campaigns for JD Williams and Home Essentials”.
It will also accelerate initiatives around “improving our product hand-writing, transforming our pricing architecture and driving our sustainability agenda”.
And it plans to enhance its digital offer. It has already implemented Bloomreach technology across its strategic brands. This uses machine learning and artificial intelligence to offer advanced merchandising tools and includes the ability to personalise its approach. Bloomreach has already driven a 19% increase in click-through rates from search to the relevant product page and a 55% reduction in 'zero results' across its strategic brands' websites. Following the equity raise, the year ahead will see it upgrading its websites further.
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