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Drapers Comment: Location is everything for New Look’s menswear debut

New Look opened its fourth standalone menswear store at the Intu Trafford Centre on Friday, making a confident statement about its intentions to make serious headway into the young fashion-savvy menswear market.

New Look Men at the Trafford Centre

New Look Men at the Trafford Centre

The 1,650 sq ft Trafford Centre store, in prime position on the ground floor close to Selfridges, Zara and All Saints, is the “jewel in the crown” of the first four sites and follows the launch of standalone stores in Portsmouth and Wigan, which opened two weeks ago, and a store at Merryhill shopping centre in Birmingham, which opened its doors on Wednesday.

While I haven’t seen the other stores yet, they couldn’t have picked a better location at the Trafford Centre; close to the bars, restaurants and cinema and in a busy thoroughfare near the likes of River Island and JD Sports, and on the level below Scotts, Jack & Jones and Sole.

All stores have exceeded expectations so far, according to New Look UK and Ireland managing director Danny Barrasso, with Merryhill in particular “knocking it out of the park” in the first 48 hours.

It’s easy to see why New Look would want to up its menswear sales, as they currently account for just 3% of total sales by value, compared to its competitors’ 25%. The aim is to reach between 10% and 15% of overall sales within three to five years.

The concept is primed for further roll-out and Barrasso says he would be disappointed if there weren’t another 10 stores open by the end of next year. But this is no race for space and the management team are prepared to wait for the right locations, which are ideally side-by-side next to a New Look womenswear store.

Danny Barrasso and Christopher Englinde at the New Look Men store at the Trafford Centre

Danny Barrasso and Christopher Englinde at the New Look Men store at the Trafford Centre

But how likely is it that its target customers of “fashion conscious 25 to 30-year old men” will shop in a store traditionally associated with womenswear? Will it pass the “pub test”, as one young fashion menswear veteran asked?

New Look’s presence on third party websites such as Zalando and Asos go some way to show the potential its menswear offer could have with the right approach, where the menswear/womenswear split is closer to 20:80.

The 25-30 age target seems a little on the old side to me, but Barrasso and menswear director Christopher Englinde, who joined from his role as H&M chief operating officer last month, assure me this is a mental age rather than a physical age target, so it could stretch higher or lower.

I’d put it closer to a 16 to 25-year-old age range thanks to the keen pricing like denim starting at £19.99, T-shirts at £5.99 or 2 for £10 and roll neck jumpers at £14.99, although there are pieces that stretch the limit a little, like blazers priced at £59.99.

At the store opening, Barrasso and Englinde, 37 and 36 respectively, were both dressed head to toe in pieces from the autumn 15 ranges and didn’t look like they were trying to chase the 1D dream.

Having standalone stores will help New Look get young guys through the door who wouldn’t dream of going to their womenswear stores, unless dragged by a friend or partner. The branding and shop fit is clean and sleek, designed to make it easier to shop for men “who often can’t be bothered to search around for what they want”. Product is grouped by look with lots of space between the aisles so it doesn’t feel too crowded, while the key trends are dispayed on mannequins and video screens behind the till.

New Look Men at the Trafford Centre

New Look Men at the Trafford Centre

With jeans starting at £19.99, New Look beats River Island, Topman and Burton on price (at £30, £30 and £25 respectively), but falls short on Englinde’s former employer H&M, which has an entry price of £14.99. However New Look Men is easier to shop than H&M and has a more ‘boutique’ edited feel.

Of course, the success of this concept may come down to the location of the stores and in the Trafford Centre, New Look has entered with a splash. Going forward, Barrasso says the team is looking at all the top 100 markets for menswear in the UK so the likes of the Bullring, Bluewater and Westfield are on the hit list. If they can replicate this kind of position, New Look should be able to muscle in on a significant share of the competitive high street menswear market.

 

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