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Friday, October 23, 2020

Debenhams – From Destination Designer To Delivering Dismay

The beleaguered department store chain Debenhams faces further woes this week, hitting the headlines as they announce yet more redundancies and news breaking that their owners have begun drawing up plans for liquidation.

The last decade has seen the 242-year-old department store chain face huge challenges, seemingly unable to find the right strategic formula for success in a new generation of retail.

In a news feature this morning, Sky News reported that Hilco Capital has been appointed to work with Debenhams if a sale is not agreed for the department store. The Hilco Capital business specialises in helping to wind down distressed retail organisations and has worked with Debenhams on store closures earlier in the year.

Sky News say that the appointment is confirmed to be part of “contingency planning” by sources close to Debenhams, and Hilco have been reached for comment.

Whilst the impact of Covid-19 has savaged the business of many retail organisations, Debenhams problems were deep-seated long before the crisis.

Today’s announcement is a far cry from the glory days of Debenhams, the department store that was once seen as a shining light in the high street. In 1993, the brand was re-energised by it’s ‘Designers at Debenhams’ launch including an exclusive Phillip Treacy hat collection.

The concept was an award winning example of brand partnerships and made designer brands more affordable with exclusive collections collaborating with names like Ben De Lisi, Julian McDonald and more recently, Abigail Ahern.

Ed Watson, Communications Specialist at PREW PR, was Debenhams Communications Director from 2008 to 2013. “In its halcyon days, Debenhams knew how to shake up the market. Designer at Debenhams was an example that democratised high end fashion. Add in initiatives such as becoming the first retailer to use size 16 mannequins (at the time the average size for women in the UK) banning the retouching of our swim and lingerie images and the use of disabled models long before diversity was even a consideration and we caught the attention of the customer for all the right reasons.”

There have been other retail mavericks in the business since, including Richard Cristofoli who orchestrated the brands return to TV in 2013. Yet with a significant amount of leadership changes, a store network in urgent need of an upgrade plus ever-increasing competition, Debenhams has been unable to steady the ship & sail in the right direction.

“It’s a real shame. Debenhams for many was THE department store in their town. Legacy issues of under investment and laden with debt, the noose was slowly tightening around the neck of the business. The constant maelstrom of discounting, lurching from ‘spectacular’ to blue cross sale, meant from a customer perspective it was always distressed and struggling to deliver a real point of difference” explains Watson.

Debenhams has over 120 stores across the UK, and an International store network.

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