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Editor's Comment: Lack of long-term leader left LK Bennett directionless

Keely Stocker

LK Bennett has become the latest high street casualty, closing five stores and making 55 redundancies after going into administration last week.

The sale of the business back in 2008 seems to have triggered a chain of events that has led the retailer to its sorry position today.

At the time, LK Bennett was flying: founder Linda Bennett had just been awarded an OBE, and the business had plans to expand its 60-strong store portfolio across the UK.

That year, Bennett sold the retailer to private equity firms Phoenix Equity Partners and Sirius Equity, retaining a 30% stake.

A merry-go-round of leadership ensued. Former Banana Republic vice-president for Europe Margaret McDonald was appointed CEO, but stepped down 18 months later to be replaced by chairman Robert Bensoussan, co-founder of Sirius Equity.

In 2012, Didier Drouet, former CEO at Italian fashion house Emilio Pucci, took the reins to focus on US expansion and Bensoussan became chairman. It was a successful period and, by 2013, turnover was up 11.5% to £88.4m.

However, 18 months later, Drouet left and Bensoussan once again took up the CEO role. By this point, profits had started to fall, which the business put down to tough trading conditions in the UK.

Former BHS CEO Darren Topp was next, joining LK Bennett in the same role in 2016. Bennett acquired the remaining equity from Phoenix Equity Partners and officially returned to the business in May 2017 to work alongside Topp.

The 18-month curse hit again in 2018, when Topp stepped down and was replaced by Erica Vilkauls, who formerly headed womenswear chain East.

By this point LK Bennett had a lot of ground to make up. Its latest results showed that the retailer made an operating loss of £5.9m for the year to 31 July 2017, compared with an operating profit of £100,000 for 2015/16.

Its website experienced issues in August 2018 and was unable to take new orders. It is understood this is an area where investment is desperately required.

The latest trend-led womenswear range includes printed midi-dresses, jumpsuits and wide-legged trousers in flattering styles, and is well suited to its target customer. However, it has a high price point – a viscose and silk leopard print jumpsuit is £350 – in comparison with other premium retailers such as Jigsaw, Reiss and Whistles, who will be appealing to the same customer base.

LK Bennett’s leadership merry-go-round has meant it has lost its way, which has no doubt resulted in it losing customer loyalty. A clear vision and strong stable leadership are required to bring LK Bennett back.  

 

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Readers' comments (2)

  • You don't mention the business rate hikes that this retailer experienced with some of their London stores. I saw that they had an increase at the St Pancras store of over 205% from £61K to £186K. What business can sustain this type of increase? I think the government has a lot to answer for. They have no long term plan and seem to think that retailers have a magic money tree. Very sad to see LK Bennet in this situation.

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  • Retailers need to be more pro-active in their locations and cut the vanity aspect. If they cannot afford the expenses, whatever the moral issue, there is only one thing you should do - move.

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