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Pull and Bear ready for UK push

As its third young fashion fascia finally lands in the UK, Inditex is promising to give it plenty of time in which to carve its niche.

The opening of the first phase of the Liverpool One scheme last week also marked the UK debut of Spanish young fashion chain Pull and Bear.

The retailer is part of the Inditex group, and a stablemate of fast-fashion phenomenon Zara, which revolutionised the UK fashion industry with its ability to give shoppers instant and affordable takes on catwalk and celebrity trends.

Zara has grown to 61 stores since its debut in London’s Regent Street in 1998. But Pull and Bear is no minnow. With more than 500 stores across 35 countries in Europe, the Middle East and Far East, the chain has a turnover of €614 million (£483m).

The Liverpool store will be followed by stores at Westfield London in White City in west London, with an Oxford Street flagship pencilled in for next spring. So Pull and Bear’s arrival in the UK is likely to have most of the high street’s fashion operators anxiously eyeing the new arrival – Drapers noticed at least one rival fashion boss checking out the Liverpool store on its opening day.

However, Zara’s successors Massimo Dutti and Bershka, while still expanding, have not caught UK shoppers’ imaginations in quite the same way as Zara. The UK is a notoriously difficult nut to crack, and the combination of product, price and store environment has to be inch perfect to stand a chance. So where will Pull and Bear fit in?

Its product consists of a casualwear offer of denim, T-shirts, hoodies and jackets aimed at a core teenage market but going up to 30-year-olds. The chain started life as a menswear-only business – the ground floor of the Liverpool store is all menswear – but has been expanding its womenswear offer. Pull and Bear offers the same affordability as Zara but is edgier, more fun and has a bit more attitude – think branded streetwear at high street prices.

The chain’s head of international store management Javier Sanjuro Cainzos says: “The customer profile is a young guy interested in fashion, music and style. We are trying to have two different styles of customer. The one we had 12 years ago when we opened is growing with us, so part of the range is oriented towards the 25- customer.”

The storefit is impressive at the Liverpool One shop. A mix of dark timber, low-level spotlighting and brickwork give it a more moody feel than some of its rivals, with echoes of Abercrombie & Fitch, while the in-store graphics and campaign shots also bear a resemblance to the US chain.

The 6,000sq ft shop sells menswear on the ground floor, with the layout and concept replicated upstairs for women.

Denim is a key feature, with both men’s and women’s jeans displayed in floor-to-ceiling displays alongside heritage-style props such as old books and battered suitcases. Denim, T-shirts and hoodies make up about 60% of total sales.

This season’s key menswear looks include American collegiate, a film- and games-inspired retro T-shirt collection, a skinny jeans rock star theme, and a more sophisticated smart casual story. In womenswear, a bohemian flower-print dress theme sits alongside a nautical story in red, white and blue for a retro sailor look, while punk rock and ethnic looks also feature.

Cainzos says Pull and Bear is product driven rather than brand driven, so the Pull and Bear name is restricted to the shop front, while product is sold under its Sicko19 and Xdye labels – more echoes of branded streetwear. New product goes into stores twice a week, with store managers given the responsibility of choosing the most appropriate styles for their store, as at Zara.

Film and movie references abound, especially on slogan and print T-shirts, which include licensed images from films including Star Wars and ET.

Cainzos says: “The store looks a bit like Hollister or Abercrombie & Fitch but the pricing is much more accessible – our product is maybe half the price of those two retailers. We are a far more product-oriented than concept-oriented business.”

A lower-priced Abercrombie & Fitch is not a bad place to start, but it is a difficult time for any new chain to enter the UK market. With UK shoppers feeling the pinch in an economic downturn, many shoppers are likely to stick to old favourites rather than take a chance on something new.

Inditex’s decision to launch a menswear-focused shop in Liverpool reflects just how competitive womenswear in the UK is.

Cainzos says: “We felt there were lots of competitors to our women’s offer in Liverpool so we decided to put menswear on the ground floor. In Spain, menswear is bigger than womenswear but we’re slowly getting better known for womenswear.”

However, he points out that Pull and Bear’s store concept is very flexible. “In new countries sometimes we give more space to womenswear and the menswear offer just occupies a corner. It depends on the market. We can move womenswear very quickly if we think it’s not working this way,” he says.

But Cainzos acknowledges that when times are tough, men are the first to stop spending, so Pull and Bear will still have to rely on women shoppers. However, whether they will find the store’s menswear focus a pull or not remains to be seen.

One young fashion boss said: “It attracts customers who shop urbanwear and streetwear, as well as people who like to shop brands. It’s a difficult time to launch, especially as they won’t support it with above-the-line marketing. But Inditex is good at doing things slowly to learn before rolling it out.”

Pull and Bear will be the third Inditex fascia aimed at a young fashion shoppers. However, Inditex feels there is a distinct market for Pull and Bear.

“Bershka is more about everyday fashion,” says Cainzos. “Zara is more elegant, although there is some overlap with TRF [Zara’s casual wear sub brand].

Pull and Bear has been operating successfully in the Republic of Ireland for almost a decade, starting off as a franchise business before it was brought back in-house, and Inditex now has the UK firmly in its sights.

“For us the UK is the most important market at the moment. We have a fantastic opportunity to test the market in Liverpool and TRF sold really well here.”

Inditex managing director Stefano Sutter says there is still lots of room in the UK for the Spanish firm’s brand of fast fashion.

“Inditex is still doing very well in the UK and our like-for-like performance this season is very positive,” says Sutter. “We are benefiting from the difficult times because people are trading down. There are shoppers who usually buy Gucci and Burberry who will keep on buying those brands, then there are other shoppers at the value end with Primark. We are taking share from the premium middle market. Plus our collection this season is very good and very suited to the UK.

“The UK is a really complicated market. It is not clever to come here and try to go everywhere with Pull and Bear. We will take it slowly.”

At a glance:
Xdye, Sicko19
Founded: 1991
Planned UK openings: Westfield London, White City; Oxford Street, London
Casual jackets, £49;
Denim, £29 to £35;
Women’s T-shirts, £6;
Men’s T-shirts £9 to £15;
Men’s jeans, £19 to £39;
Men’s V-neck jumpers, £19;
Men’s cargo shorts, £35

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