DRY FUSION

Superdry is a UK men’s and ladies fashion retailer. It opened its first outlet in London, under the Superdry label in 2004. Since then it has grown rapidly and continues to deliver growth and profits through its multi-channel strategy globally. More on this later.

Founded by Ian Hibbs and Julian Dunkerton in their home town Cheltenham, Superdry has proven to be the ultimate chameleon when it comes to defining its core characteristics and brand values.

It has identified three dimensions to its overall brand strategy.

  • To build a global lifestyle brand.
  • To derive awareness of the breadth of the Superdry product range.
  • To build a cross-channel relationship with its customers.

It markets over 2,000 items in its product range but is best known for three key product lines.

  • The windcheater
  • The hoodie
  • The T-shirt.

It has avoided all forms of traditional advertising and promotion, instead relying on social media in the main to build up its brand identity and values. It has focused on creating events and experiences and has invested in content marketing to build up a consistent and creative narrative using Facebook and more recently Instagram as key elements in this approach.

It has made use of a number of celebrities to endorse the brand. These include David Beckham, Idris Elba, Zac Efram, Helene Christensen and Justin Bieber.

It has been described by its owners as a “fashion chain for men and women blending vintage Americana with Japanese and British inspiration”. It must be said the Japanese influence would appear to be based on the use of Japanese characters on the various items. This has created the visual effect of being an international brand and the Japanese words have conveyed the impression of an Asian, international design in the minds of its core market.

Superdry positions its brand as being distinctly upmarket but not in the “super-premium category. This is reflected in its price points. For instance in 2016, in the UK market, its male leather jacket were priced at £450 and its range of embroidered T-shirts sold for £16.99p. The price points are slightly lower for the female range. Its leather biker jacket was priced at £224.99 and its slouch T-shirts came in at £14.99.

Since its launch in 2004 it has grown to over 860 stores, including franchises, owned-stores and concessions in sixty-two countries. It operates over twenty-seven international websites, selling in twelve different languages in eighteen countries and also has extensive wholesale operations. This strategy focuses on entering into collaborative arrangements with a range of local partners across the different geographic regions.

In the UK market it also sells its range of products in well-known retailers such as Next, House of Fraser, Zalano and Shop Direct.

It also generates around fifteen per cent of its online sales from using third-party websites such as Zalando, Le Redoute and The Iconic.

In-house research indicates that its customers make extensive use of mobile devices when visiting the twenty-seven websites. Interestingly the research also pointed to the fact that multi-channel shoppers tend to spend more often and display stronger brand loyalty than shoppers who rely on a single channel for doing business.

Its international business generates over fifty-five per cent of sales (2016), with Germany proving to be its biggest market. It recently opened a major flagship store in the Kranzler Eck Shopping Centre in West Berlin as an indication of its commitment to this important market.

In order to service the channels in the diverse markets Superdry has established three main distribution centres in the UK, Europe and the USA.

It follows a blueprinting process to facilitate its strategy which it call “design to customer”. This maps out everything from the creative idea right through to the customer purchase and its sourcing strategy. To this end it has established offices in areas such as Turkey and China. Senior management argues that this allows for closer and more collaborative arrangements with its range of suppliers.

In the case of the latter it has reduced its dependence on agents and has begun to source directly with suppliers.

The word “fusion” comes to my mind as I undertook an assessment of the Superdry strategy. From its eclectic fusion of Japanese impressions with Americana design to its bewildering array of multi-channel arrangements globally, Superdry has managed to carve out a distinctive form of brand identification.

Its online business continues to grow, at the end of 2017, twenty-five per cent of its retail business came from these channels.

It has also succeeded in remaining relevant to its target market by connecting with celebrities that resonate with them.

Its overall brand strategy appears to be focused on creating new designs with a distinct emphasis on quality and design. It “touches its hat” to the notion of affordability. As mentioned earlier it does not explicitly offer lower prices; instead focusing on carving out an image (supported by its price points) that is midway between “slightly upmarket” and “super-premium”.

There is no explicit evidence from the published material about Super Dry to suggest that it is practicing an omni-channel strategy. It operates around seven to eight different channels to connect with its target market. It focus on providing large Distribution Centres and its adoption of technology would suggest that it is moving in the direction of full-blown omni-channels. However it is probably accurate to note that it has not arrived at this stage yet.

The typical Superdry shopper can best be described as someone who likes buying clothes but is not heavily into the fashion element. This individual is also not heavily into outlandish designs, preferring items that reflect a “cool” image, have plenty of product features (in the form of zips, pockets and buttons) and offer a competitively priced selection of items.

What are the longer-term prospects for the Superdry brand?

It is a diverse range of items and markets. This insulates it somewhat from potentially negative economic developments such as Brexit: it is not dependent on the UK market and has already made some significant footprints in large markets such as the USA and China.

Although it uses a wide range of channels to connect with its customer base, this can also work in its favour. It is not a “pure-play” Etailer. Nor is it dependent on its physical stores and outlets portfolio. This potentially makes it easier to adjust if one or either of these channels shows evidence of decline.

The challenge in my view revolved around remaining relevant to its target market. The fashion retail market is notoriously fickle and volatile; with shoppers moving to the latest “craze” without too much evidence of strong brand loyalty. Can the fusion of Americana and the use of Japanese script on the product items sustain the brand into the future?

The brand has shown dexterity and imagination with respect to its adept use of social media on general and content marketing in particular to address the challenge of remaining relevant. This should stand it in good stead going forward.

I particularly like management’s attitude to pursuing growth. They do so by not actively seeking major transformation and change. Instead they focus on small incremental improvements as they assess and map out their response to the customer journey through the buying process. It appears to follow the principle of “steady as she goes”.

What do you think?

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