The appointment of former Goodwood Group boss Alex Williamson to the top job at House of Fraser raised some eyebrows in the industry, given his lack of previous experience in fashion retail. He formally joined at the end of July, a few months after the department store chain unveiled a five-year strategy that included plans to drop 30 to 40 womenswear brands, launch in-store champagne bars and yoga studios and invest £25m in an ecommerce revamp.
However, Williamson has his work cut out for him. In September, House of Fraser revealed like-for-like sales fell by 5.2% in the 26 weeks to 29 July, and it made an adjusted EBITDA loss of £8.6m. It said online sales had been “significantly disrupted” following replatforming its website, and it was forced to offer steep markdowns to clear some of its womenswear.
Yet Williamson was bullish about its prospects, arguing that House of Fraser had been “starved of investment” for many years. He pointed out that the new web platform has improved the customer experience, while early reaction to its autumn ranges had been positive. Anecdotally, some brands have reported positive performance through their presences at the department store.
If he is right and the foundations are now in place for a turnaround, we may see Williamson move up the ranks next year.