Braemar embarks on repositioning

With an eye to reversing its sagging fortunes, women's clothing retailer Braemar is eliminating national brands from its inventory and concentrating its efforts exclusively on its own private label product. Analysts, however, say the company will face a major challenge to...

With an eye to reversing its sagging fortunes, women’s clothing retailer Braemar is eliminating national brands from its inventory and concentrating its efforts exclusively on its own private label product. Analysts, however, say the company will face a major challenge to brand itself as a fashion destination.

Although Braemar’s strategy incorporates a new store design and advertising campaign, the foundation of the repositioning is the chain’s move away from national labels, which used to comprise about half its inventory. In fact, the company is aiming to have nothing but its ‘Braemar’ private label in stock come fall.

‘Our position is we’re going to produce a really good private label product for women,’ says Margaret Cooper, who joined the company as marketing director less than a year ago. ‘We don’t carry everyone else’s product that we mark up just to mark down, because everyone’s playing that game.’

So rather than compete with department stores to sell big-name brands like Liz Claiborne and Louben, Braemar will attempt to sell on the basis of its own name. However, the chain’s own research indicates that it is clearly not a fashion leader – it has a good name for quality, say the company’s customers, but it’s stuck in the ’80s.

One retail analyst calls the repositioning ‘dangerous’ and says she doubts whether Braemar can pull it off.

‘To build a brand takes a lot of time, a lot of expense and a lot of advertising. You have to be fashion leaders,’ says Wendy Evans, president of Toronto-based retail marketing consultancy Evans & Company. ‘Somebody like the Gap has 300 suppliers and have their garments made all around the world. They’ve got design people in New York and they’re travelling all around Europe. I’d doubt very much that Braemar has the resources to do that. I think this is a big leap and it doesn’t allow for much flexibility.’

Late last summer, Braemar called in Andy Macaulay and his new Toronto agency, Zig, to help it fashion a new brand identity. One key goal, says Macaulay, was to avoid making a radical jump without bringing the core customer – 35 to 50-year-old women – along for the ride. He adds they didn’t want to make the same mistakes Tip Top – another Dylex division – did with its failed repositioning.

The core of the campaign is direct mail, which targets Braemar’s database of 250,000 regular customers. Creative ranges from postcards to catalogues, and has a dual message, Macaulay says.

‘There’s always an of-the-moment message, which is generally related to a fashion season, but the backdrop of it is an impression we’re trying to leave of a more modern, more stylish and more friendly Braemar,’ he says.

In-store posters featuring the new line have been integrated into window displays that have been likened to those of the Gap. But Braemar has taken a different tack, choosing not to show people in the clothes. Cooper says that’s so customers can imagine themselves in the clothes rather than some ’20-year-old skipping along the beach in something that looks great on her.’

Macaulay admits a repositioning of this kind can’t be done with posters and direct mail alone, but won’t say where the campaign is headed. The initial stage, he says, is to ensure the core customer will tag along, before the company embarks on a hunt for new customers.

Designs of the three prototype stores round out the repositioning with lighter fixtures, more wood, glass and brushed stainless steel, ‘limestoney’ concrete floors and variable lighting in the change rooms. The lighting, says Cooper, has two settings to allow customers to see an outfit as it would appear in the office and out on the town.

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