Magazine article Marketing

Time to Rebuild Mothercare

Magazine article Marketing

Time to Rebuild Mothercare

Article excerpt

Low growth, a stagnant market and a poet image with parents and children have caused problems for Mothercare.

It seems that no one cares too much for Mothercare. Mothers find its 'Essential' range somewhat inessential; children view the brand as passe in the playground; and analysts advise investors to put their money elsewhere.

Now armed with a new management team and a renewed commitment to marketing, the Storehouse subsidiary has announced it is looking for above- and below-the-line agencies (Marketing, last week). Just a few weeks ago, Mothercare's new managing director, Greg Tufnell, a former Next and Burton Group retailer appointed in November, said: "Marketing will be a vital element in fully realising the immense potential of the brand."

It's not before time. Once one of the most recognised brands in the children's market, Mothercare ought to be the destination shop for all products child related. Its vast range - from maternity wear to prams and buggies and children's clothing - means it could serve everybody from mums to be to parents of toddlers and pre-teens.

But like many high-street retailers, Mothercare has had an on-off relationship with marketing and advertising, chopping and changing agencies every year or so - about as often as it changed its senior management. Over the years, it's little surprise therefore that the chain appears to have lost its way and with it any serious brand values. This may explain why Tufnell talks about his "focus on communicating the Mothercare brand in its core market".

There is no doubting the size of the task. End-of-year results, announced last month, were unimpressive: like-for-like growth in total sales was just 1.8%, and Storehouse admits the development of its out-of-town brand has hit the high-street outlets.

The reason for its poor performance is not entirely the fault of the chain, which was established in 1961 and is part of the Storehouse group alongside Bhs. The market has been stagnant for some years. Last year was particularly tough for clothing generally, with total sales up only 6.8%. The children's wear market suffered most, with growth of less than 2%.

Fast-changing fashions

Retail experts agree that children's clothing is one of the most difficult markets in which to operate."It's extremely inconsistent, which is reflected in the trading records of most of the players in the market," says Richard Hyman at retail analyst Verdict Research. "Tastes and demands change rapidly and most retailers have difficulty responding quickly enough. Even the market leader, Marks & Spencer, has far less impressive results in children's-wear compared with its highly lucrative adult range."

Others say Mothercare has been squeezed between M&S at one end and the supermarkets, particularly Asda with its George range, at the other. They have been joined by the likes of Boots and Toys 'R' Us with its new Baby 'R' Us stores.

Part of the problem is the increasing popularity of sports-wear and branded clothing among a much younger age group. Not so long ago, fashion was less relevant, as it only affected the older-children's market. Now, bands such as the Spice Girls have contributed to young girls dressing head to toe in Adidas clothing, while boys increasingly favour designer labels. …

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