In 1999, Wendy Hallett MBE devised a completely unique concessions concept, with the aim of helping emerging brands reach big name department stores. now it trades 46 jewellery brands in 49 House of Fraser stores across the country, and works with countless others. Sarah Louise Jordan meets Hallett and the company’s head of brands for non-clothing, Danielle Fisher, to find out more.
Wendy Hallett MBE is the definition of an inspiring individual and that’s before you even get to her successful concessions business, Hallett Retail — The Concessions People.
After spending 13 years working for Arcadia and overseeing Topshop’s mammoth flagship store on Oxford Street, London, she found herself in a precarious position. With small children to contend with and little money to invest, she developed an idea to take smaller brands into department stores on a concession-system — a concept that impressed Debenhams and swiftly turned into Hallett Retail in 1999.
In September 2011, Hallett Retail began operating jewellery concessions in House of Fraser stores, starting with 14 jewellery brands in 49 locations across the UK. Today, it trades 46 brands in those 49 stores, including the likes of Guess, Lola Rose and Carat*.
“At the time there was nobody taking smaller brands into department stores on a concession model,” explains Hallett, as she recounts the history of her company. “I went to see Debenhams, explained my idea and asked if they had any space. This was on clothing, but in time we could see the strength of what we did wasn’t necessarily in [emerging] fashion but in the concept itself, which could be put to other categories.”
So, how does it work? Hallett Retail is a service that pulls together boutique fashion, accessory and jewellery brands and operates them under one umbrella concession in host stores. The concept acts in a similar way to a traditional bricks-and-mortar shop, with Hallett Retail responsible for providing all the support structures; from product, planning and merchandising to finance and marketing. The only difference is the company doesn’t own the brands or the stock it works with, and essentially rents space (either square footage or linear) in host stores and allocates brands accordingly.
This flexibility in terms of brand placement and space is one of Hallett Retail’s greatest strengths; giving it the power to pull underperforming brands back, exit brands completely, swap brands to alternative stores and expand the areas of the most promising sellers. Describing the involvement of the host store in the Hallett Retail model, Hallett explains: “It very much depends on the contract and the relationship. We have been working with some of our partners for quite a while, so we understand what each others’ goals and values are, and what we want to achieve. This means we can be quite flexible with some of our clients in terms of what we put in [to stores] based on what we believe will work and what has already been working.”
Danielle Fisher is Hallett Retail’s head of brands for non-clothing cat- egories, and she’s been an integral part of the company since 2011. Her role is to manage brands and how they trade; from sourcing through to steering the product direction of collections and instore displays.
When asked whether she has to ‘pitch’ new and perhaps untested brands to host stores, she explains: “No, we will bring in what brands we think are right in terms of locations, so we’ve got that flexibility. Otherwise it would slow everything down and one of the great things about us is we are always seeking new brands and fresh ideas to keep things moving. We always flag when things might be contentious or really exciting, so [the department store’s] press can get behind it.”
THE FULL-SERVICE FACTOR
Hallett Retail’s concession spaces are run on a commission model, ensuring it is in everyone’s interest to drive sales and see brands excel. For retailers, Hallett Retail offers a full-service solution to maximising sales in a particular area; covering everything from sourcing new brands to staffing tills.
Fisher explains: “The retailers don’t have to invest their buyers’ time into finding cool, new brands that will work in a particular market. They don’t have to ensure sales are being driven, but they are getting a commission from it, so it’s a win-win for them. We also have highly specialised jewellery staff, so they don’t have to staff [the area] either. It is all done by us.”
Hallett adds: “Often in some of the big fashion multiples jewellery doesn’t necessarily warrant its own dedicated buyer, so it will be up to a buyer of accessories who might not have the expertise. If you do jewellery through the concession route you are getting all the expertise.”
Perhaps the best example of this is House of Fraser, where Hallett Retail operates jewellery concessions in 49 stores using a ‘tank’-based model rather than self-service displays. It also does similar work with Clerys department store in Dublin.
For House of Fraser, Hallett Retail employs a team of regional controllers and area managers to ensure sales are constantly controlled and analysed — perhaps to see whether a brand might be suited to a different region. It also helps reduce communication issues for retailers and brands too; removing the pressure of keeping 50 brands happy from the department store’s perspective and offering an accessible contact at the end of the phone for brands.
“We set up the business to be like any other retailer, so even though we don’t buy product we still have all the same functions. This means the retailers we work with can relate to our structure,” Hallett explains, when the conversation turns to the seemingly easy working relationship between Hallett Retail and House of Fraser in particular.
“The buyers within the retailer can relate to our brand people because they’re both product focused; then you have our trading team who relate to the merchandisers and the finance team who talk to the finance team at the retailer. So, yes, it just makes it quite straight forward.”
With its focus on monitoring specific store and regional sales across all its brands, Hallett Retail offers an alluring mix of skill, support and knowledge for brands looking to break into the lucrative department store market.
The company benefits from an integrated IT system, allowing the team to see what’s selling well in a particular store or area at any one time. As a result, this data is used to discern which brands should be sold in specific parts of the UK, while answering questions such as ‘What areas are more focused on designer labels?’ and ‘What stores can sell quirky, unusual items more effectively?’
Fisher explains: “We’re quite focused on using that information to drive what we do in each individual store. You can put a brand into 10 stores and it will work in eight, so then it is about making sure we find somewhere else to house the brand. We make sure brands are in the right places for them, and not necessarily where the best overall turnover for jewellery is.”
Hallett adds: “It doesn’t always follow that brands will make the most money in the stores that make the most money.”
On a day-to-day basis, the company’s trading function is on-hand to address shortfalls in sales or smashed targets — potentially giving a brand more space and finding fresh locations to house its jewellery collections.
Hallett continues: “We are quite aggressive in terms of driving sales as this is how we make our money, so we need to work very closely with brands, even if they’re quite established like Guess and Carat*. Our sales teams are key to this, so customer service and getting representatives of brands to train our [concession] managers is essential.”
Trunk shows, special display tables for new products, self-select jewellery towers and acquiring in-store poster spaces are just some of the ways Hallett Retail works to boost sales. As a result the company receives countless requests from brands wanting to work with them.
Fisher comments: “We get approached by a lot of different brands and then we decide whether or not to work with them, depending on lots of different factors, like whether we’re looking for new brands at that time; whether or not they’re filling a category that we don’t have; or whether or not they can expand on something that is already doing well for us.”
Strategy is also a big concern for Fisher and her team, who have to balance the specific strategies of each brand they work with, while ensuring this is the most effective approach for the host retailer (and the space provided).
“We have a strategy and then we’ll listen to and learn all of the strategies of the different brands. We will then have to translate that across the business so everyone is in-sync with what’s going on,” Fisher explains. This strategy is especially important when it comes to working with smaller brands that might not have branding, marketing and product focus down to a fine art.
“We can give [emerging brands] the product direction and support they need in order to take them from small boutiques or no presence in the UK at all, to getting exposure in big department stores in the most premium locations. They would need to do a lot of PR work to achieve similar goals themselves and this could be quite expensive. I don’t know how they would break into the UK otherwise,” Fisher remarks.
From Hallett’s perspective, it’s worth taking on a brand for two or three stores, rather than a whole network of department stores, if it is clear that the brand will excel and provide a necessary point of difference. However, there are limits in place.
She notes: “It’s not fair on a brand if you’re taking them on and they aren’t ready to do department stores, so they need that infrastructure and understanding in place. We can guide them, but there needs to be certain rules.”
The American concept of a ‘trunk show’ for emerging jewellery brands and designers has taken a while to seep into the UK market, and its benefits as a sales tool are only now starting to be used effectively. Fisher noted the rising trend on Instagram by following the big US department stores, and she’s now using the technique to “create a bit of theatre” in Hallett Retail’s flagship concessions.
She continues: “It gives the brands, especially the smaller ones, a really fantastic opportunity to be in direct contact with the customer. We have very simple glass tables and then we effectively rent that space out for the designers from a brand, or the owners, to stand there and sell their product to customers over a long weekend at busy times of the year.”
This face-to-face interaction gives brands a unique opportunity to meet their customers and get feedback from them in an environment that is already geared-up to sales, especially around peak seasons such as Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day and Ramadan. According to Hallett Retail, trunk shows can add sales of up to £5,000 per event, per store.
Jewellery and fashion concessions are the core of Hallett Retail’s business, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t expanding its offer year-on-year. In August 2013 it acquired the transactional website stylistpick. com and merged it with its existing concept, fusefashion.com, to create a concession-model site with a one million- strong customer database.
Also in 2013, Hallett Retail took on a warehouse facility in Greater Manchester, naming the location Hallett Retail Logistics. The aim of this facet is to give brands and hosts an end-to-end, full service solution, including logistics, e-fulfilment, processing, quality control, customer service and photography, across the UK and internationally. The brands using this service are not required to be part of Hallett Retail’s department store concessions, giving it a much wider client scope.
When asked about Hallett Retail’s potential for growth, Hallett explains: “I think there is more opportunity on some of the non-clothing categories. We started on fashion, then went into jewellery and I think we still have a lot more we could do on shoes, bags and the whole accessories area. We are also looking at home-wear, children’s categories and beauty and seeing if these are areas we can work in.”
Hallett also sees potential in the travel retail sector, specifically on cruise ships and in airports, which have the space and set-up suitable for her concessions model. This ambition also extends to inflight sales, with Hallett anxious to get her brands noticed at 30,000 feet within the next few years. She explains: “We’re also thinking a little bit outside the box in terms of where we can take the concept and what we can do with it. I think the travel industry is an interesting one, specifically on the jewellery side.”
Again, Hallett hopes her accessible point-of-contact solution will help to beat the competition, noting: “For a business to work with 25 to 30 different brands they will need 25 to 30 different relationships and you need a team of people to do that. We already have those relationships and we’ve already got the people. We can utilise some of the brands we are already working with without having to take on new relationships; so it’s one relationship versus 30 and that’s our advantage [for tackling the travel retail market].”
Another exciting area of business is the recent announcement by House of Fraser that it will be expanding into Asia, after Chinese conglomerate Sanpower purchased an 89% stake in the business in the last 12 months. House of Fraser has 59 stores in the UK, employs 7,000 staff and recently confirmed a £150 million investment in store overhauls over the next four year. For Hallett Retail, this could mean interesting opportunities for its jewellery concessions — both at home and abroad.
Hallett concludes: “Even with the current business we have there are still opportunities to continue and build on the success we’ve already had, while looking after what we’ve already got.”
This feature originally appeared in the May 2015 issue of Professional Jeweller. Read it here.