Department store Allders is on the comeback trail and has this week launched a new website in the hope of winning back the customers it lost when the old business went into administration at the end of 2004.
At Allders’ peak it had a portfolio of 45 stores and was generating an annual turnover of more than £700 million, and CEO Andrew MacKenzie is keen to find these lost millions through both the brand new e-commerce operation that arrived online on Tuesday and the use of social media.
“Some £700 million of turnover has gone somewhere and I want that back,” he told Retail Gazette.
“People who used to shop in Allders in Bolton, Leeds or wherever they are based – we want them back.”
Mackenzie arrived as boss of the department store when he and business partner Harold Tillman, owner of fashion brand Jaeger, bought the company’s name, stock and flagship Croydon outlet from administrators at the start of 2005.
Over the last six years he has helped restore the business, which had simply run out of money after rapid expansion under previous ownership, into a profitable company ready to operate in a modern retail environment.
Approaching its 150th anniversary next year, Allders is one of the longest running retail names in England and its CEO believes this will stand the business in good stead as it aims to establish itself on a multichannel level.
Department store groups John Lewis, Debenhams and House of Fraser may be leading the way with their online operations, and all have reported strong e-commerce growth over the last year, but there is hope that Allders’ tradition and reputability with the English public will play a large part in its digital success.
“We’ve built the new site from a six-figure budget, have tested it for the last six months and it works a treat,” Mackenzie explained.
“One of the senior guys at John Lewis has congratulated my team saying it is one of the most user-friendly business websites that he has ever come across.”
He also indicated that other department store groups, although successful, arguably do not have the same brand presence as Allders, which first appeared on the English retail scene in 1862.
“We have an identity with the nation - virtually everyone in the south-east of England has a pair of curtains, a carpet or a rug from Allders and their daughters and sons will have as well.
“We are playing the own brand card with our online launch. We’re a full-line department store and some of the others may not be.”
It has been a challenging time since Mackenzie and Tillman arrived at the department store’s helm, but the company has now been profitable for the last two years with sales of around £50 million expected to be reported for the last 12 months when trading figures are announced in the coming weeks.
Much of the cash generated in recent years has been invested back into the e-commerce operation, and the company has been capturing customer data ever since the pair began running the business six years ago.
The CEO estimates that Allders in Croydon serves around 10,000 people each week, but the new website is part of a wider multichannel strategy that will expand its reach into people’s homes, specifically those of former customers who remember the Allders name but due to the collapse of the company in its previous guise no longer live in close proximity to a store.
“We had a transactional website before but I was not overly impressed with it,” Mackenzie remarked.
“It’s all about social interaction now whether that be by Facebook, Twitter, email or SMS, and I think we can reach more people more quickly through this method.
“They will tell us if we doing things right or wrong, and the new website will get our brand awareness where it needs to be.”
Allders is now in the position to start strengthening the link between its bricks and mortar store and its online operation, with an additional 500 in-store products set to be made available online each week.
The retailer has 42,000 product lines and MacKenzie’s target is to eventually stock all of these on the new website.
Following the business’s demise under previous ownership, Allders became a single-store retailer but the one property it does have is more than 500,000 sq ft, including its distribution centre, and is the third biggest department store site in the UK behind Harrods and Selfridges.
There are no plans to expand its property portfolio in the foreseeable future, but if the new website is successful the company could be required to open regional distribution centres, providing welcome employment opportunities across the UK.
“I would never say never to opening new stores, but to my mind the high street is something of a problem – we’re all aware of the demise of the likes of Habitat and the empty shops in town centres,” MacKenzie stated.
“However, to be more successful we will have to service people more quickly – I can’t be doing this just from my warehouse in Croydon.”
Like many of its fellow retailers, online remains the number one focus for Allders at present and why wouldn’t it be with the latest IMRG Capgemini e-Retail Sales Index suggesting that the e-tail industry was worth £31.5 billion in the first six months of 2011?
“Faced with the dilemma of signing a lease for so many thousands of pounds against selling via the internet, there is only one answer; I’ve got to go online.”
It may prove to be a considerable challenge to encourage former Allders enthusiasts to start spending at the retailer again, but MacKenzie is confident that the internet is the place to find them.