Monday, 16 February 2009

Spring flowers - brand buds

Counting the types of flowers as they appear has always been a staple spring ritual of my mother - bringing a reassurance that spring will eventually come and wipe away the long, grim winter - even if it's in fits and starts. I've been counting a few positives in the rather grim economic landscape.

Number One - It's heartening to hear that Austin Reed has come in to buy Viyella, a brand about which I waxed lyrical. Nick Hollingsworth, CEO, said, "It is a great brand but it had lost its way. It was like a crumpet that was missing the butter." I'd very much like the brand to re-examine its rich history and tradition, dig up its innovative moments and develop an authentic offer for the current customer. I'm not sure that Mr Hollingsworth's desire to "reinvent the brand for today's 50-year old" really does justice to the heritage of the actual fabric that bore the name. Unfortunately the fabric, the innovative mix of wool and cotton, is long gone - but with the trend towards self-sewing and thrifty fashion this may just be the time to re-invent it.

Number Two - Another branded fabric that seems to have become merely a fashion brand is Aertex. Once the pride of every school kid's PE kit, I discovered the apparent demise of the material in a quirky and charming copy of "The Evening Post" from clothes people Old Town. A Miss Willey reports, "I rang my order through as usual - 50 metres of white, 50 metres of eau de nil, 50 metres of pale blue - only to be told the devastating news. No more blue.....Turns out they haven't woven the fabric for the last 25 years. They've been sitting on old stock that has finally run out." If someone would like to order 2,000 metres they might crank up the machines again. Austin Reed interested? Or perhaps Paul Smith might do something interesting with pale blue Aertex? (By the way the positive here is reading "The Evening Post")

Number Three - Another well reported story is the new Wellworths store in Dorchester. The new owner manager, Claire Robertson, has chosen a name that cleverly links to its ancestor, Woolworths, and evokes value and humour. I haven't done the legals so I hope she's not infringing any of the existing Wellworths trade marks but, I believe, she has been canny enough to register the .com and for her new brand. The opportunity she has is to create a local high street brand that can be sensitive and responsive to what the people want. She can stand in the store, talk to customers, put things on the shelf to try, offer testers and tasters and develop a genuinely useful brand. And again the ability to be on trend by stocking cooking pots, haberdashery and, obviously, pik'n'mix. 

Number Four - Stories of improved sales in fast-food are maybe less heart-warming but are nevertheless significant. KFC, Domino's Pizza, Subway and even McDonald's are doing well. They are remarkable 'good value' in as much as they don't cost much and are tasty but are inevitably stoking a health time bomb. Their familiarity, accessibility and instant gratification are things that will all help them as recession busters. Any chance of a sense of social responsibility slipping in?

Number Five - The other great recession buster is the special offer. My favourite, and most stylish, of the moment is Boden's Catch of the Day - they're taking 25% off one item, for one day, everyday. Clear, tempting and with a sense of urgency. And it sounds as though it comes with chips... Yet another example of a small treat to get you through the grey winter of gloom.

Photo from Old Town website