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'Test and learn': Bonmarché's new way of working

Bonmarché boss Helen Connolly has been on a mission to modernise the value womenswear retailer. She shared her experiences and advice with delegates at the Drapers Fashion Forum.

Break down the silos

When Connolly was named chief executive of Bonmarché in March 2016, she realised the teams were largely operating in silos. She restructured the business to bring the marketing, end-to-end logistics, merchandising and ecommerce teams together under a single trading director.

Modernising product

Connolly says Bonmarché was dominated by long lead times but it has been reviewing its supply chain, bringing sourcing closer to home, and it is being “braver” with product. For example, it is using new-season colours such as ochre in its knitwear and outerwear.

“Our demographic may be a bit older, but they still want to be on trend,” she explains.

Respect your existing customer

Bonmarché has a very loyal customer base, largely made up of women in their mid-fifties. Connolly is wary of alienating them by changing the product too dramatically: “It’s at the front of our mind with every decision.”

She admits that a small proportion of customers were disappointed when Bonmarché stopped selling a long nightdress “which looked like you should be wearing it in hospital”, but says she was surprised at how quickly most customers embraced more fashionable product. “It’s a very fine balance. We’re testing and learning – we won’t get everything right.”

Ignore preconceptions about your customer

For a long time, there was a common preconception that older consumers would not shop online. Connolly says she has enjoyed proving people wrong on that front – ecommerce sales are growing steadily.

Be patient with systems

Connolly says Bonmarché’s in-store ordering is still fairly cumbersome for staff, because of the company’s legacy systems: “There are always bumps in the road when it comes to IT and systems. I’m impatient, so I’d like to do faster, but I’ve had to accept that some things can’t happen tomorrow.”

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