Posts Tagged ‘Zara’

A Swedish flip-flop

May 18, 2010

Fourteen months is a long time in international business.  In March 2009, I quoted a senior figure at Swedish fast-fashion retailer H&M who said:

“We’ve never really opened in a country where they are in a different season.  We are not in South America and although we have one shop in Egypt we are concentrated in Europe and North America, with some shops in Asia.  The next destination is Russia… To go somewhere like Australia, it’s far away from our production offices”.

This week, her boss announced a reversal of this stance:

Hennes & Mauritz AB, Europe’s second- largest clothing retailer, is looking at opening its first store in the southern hemisphere to tap emerging-market growth and catch up with larger rival Inditex SA.

“Brazil and Argentina are very interesting,” Chief Executive Officer Karl-Johan Persson, 35, said in an interview at his Stockholm office, adding that he’s also looked at Australia. The company wants to enter the region at some point after making “sure we can handle it.”

Tellingly, it would seem that there has been some demonstration effect from the firm’s big rivals – Inditex and the Gap – expanding their operations into the lower hemisphere.  H&M are concerned about missing the growth opportunities in this markets.  International Business scholars need to pay close attention to such clustering of expansion behaviour within an industry, as a firm’s location choices (especially when market-seeking) are not independent of their competitors’.

Do I think we’ll be seeing H&M in Aussie shopping strips real soon?  No, I can’t see that we are a major priority for these guys, or Inditex, and I remain unconvinced about the likely scale of Gap’s entry.

Australia will remain an under-internationalised retail sector for years to come.

2009 in Review

January 6, 2010

Ooops, I’m a little later this year with my reflections on 2009 as a blogger (last year I managed to do it on New Years Day – oh well, better late than never).

I can tell you that I post exactly 100 times (but 42 of those were in the first 3 months), and that there were just over 14,300 visits to the site. January and December were the two busiest months, with about 2000 visits each. The busiest day was Dec 2 when this post got over 200 clicks.

The most popular posts from 2009 were:

#1 Can Aldi beat Wal-Mart?

#2 A juicy tale of international expansion (about Boost Juice)

and very strangely, one about toilets at #3 Toto, we’re not in Tokyo anymore…

The aforementioned Dec 2 post Why don’t more producers sell on-line? came in at #4 (and thus has the highest average visitors per day).

#5 confirms a retailing bias with Capabilities do matter (about Zara, Ikea & H&M)

And the post from 2008 asked is there Too much Wii in this Blue Ocean? still attracts loads of readers.

Thank you to all who have visited, commented, argued and critiqued. I relish the engagement and the challenge. Here’s to a great 2010…

Will The Gap head down under?

November 11, 2009

Rumours abound that US clothing retailers, The Gap and Abercombie & Fitch, might be set to open stores down under. This sent me off to chat with an Honours student in our department who has spent the past six months exploring the international expansion patterns of various major retailers, including The Gap.

Here’s a little email interview I did with our newest retail expert Sakshi Banerjee:

André: How international is The Gap?

Sakshi: The Gap is actually not that international in comparison to its counterparts such as Zara (Inditex) and H&M. The focus of The Gap has always been its home market, the US. Though it has begun to internationalise, the majority of its sales (around 82%) are still generated within its home market. In comparison, H&M derives less than 10% of its sales from its home market and Inditex around 50%.

André: How many countries does The Gap operate in currently?

Sakshi: The firm has stores in six countries – The USA, Canada, The UK, Ireland, France & Japan. Here’s a link to their store (and brand) counts. They have recently started expanding by franchise, mainly in the Middle East where such an entry mode seems to be compulsory.

André: Why has it taken so long for them to get down here?

Sakshi: The reason for the lateness of their entrance in the Australian market can be attributed to a number of factors. There are organizational factors. The Gap’s high dependence on its home market and home region (NAFTA) have meant that they have been slow to expand outside their natural comfort zone. Country characteristics of Australia such as its geographic distance, being in the southern hemisphere (switched seasons) as well as its small consumer market have meant that Australia is not seen as high priority market to enter/expand to.

André: How likely do you think it is that they will indeed open down here?

Sakshi: The likeliness of them opening an actual store is very slim. The costs, the risk, and the pressure on their supply chain as well as the pressure on designers to produce alternative seasons’ clothes mean that the likelihood of them opening is very slim. And as for Abercombie and Fitch, their clothes are already being carried in certain stores in Australia, so there might not be that much to gain.

André: Do you think this would attract the other big fashion retailers to Australia too?

Sakshi: I do not believe that this will attract other major fashion retailers. Inditex has explicitly stated that it will not be coming to Australia and currently H&M is more focused on expanding their presence in the Asian markets.

André: Thanks Sakshi.

Anyone else got questions for Sakshi (or me)?

Retail reflections from the Road – part one

June 24, 2009

Blogging hasn’t been front of mind for me over the past 10 days of so.  Indeed, I have been fixated on consuming burgers, seeing sights, reading roadsigns and booking hotel/motel rooms as I traipse down through California towards San Diego.

Nevertheless, I thought I’d take this opportunity to relate my an early experience in my travels to previous posts on this here Blog.

In San Francisco I had the opportunity to experience Aussie shopping centre giant Westfield‘s US expansion.  They had done a fine job of branding and delivering a suitably slick real estate and retail offering.

There were a couple of Aussie retailers on display (Napoleon Perdis and courier-bagsters Crumpler), as well as the expected mix of US and international chains.  I was disappointed by Zara and H&M‘s offerings (their clothes didn’t seem quite as flashy yet utilitarian as they do in Europe).

I was more impressed by the offerings of Martin+Osa, a fashion house that it turns out is a brand extension from the more ubiquitous and mainstream American Eagle Outfitters.  These two brands serve as a strong reminder of the sheer size and scale of the US market and the limited need for US retailers to internationalise.  American Eagle is yet to spread its wings beyond Canada, while Martin+Osa only has stores in 17 states.  Nevertheless they are able to offer decent quality clothing at their respective (surprisingly low) price points.  Australia-only fashion retailers would simply not be able to compete at that level.

The presence of Perdis and Crumpler remind us that Aussie retailers really do need a neat point of difference to justify tackling the US scene (and beyond).

More on retail in the coming days…

Capabilities do matter

April 12, 2009

One of the biggest questions in international business research is the relationship between multinationality and performance. It is still pretty unclear whether expanding internationally improves a firm’s profitability (or returns to shareholders), and whether the extent of expansion makes a difference. Recent stories on some of the world’s three largest fashion retailers paints an challenging picture.

First up, The Wall-Street Journal tells us that Spanish giant Zara (or rather their parent Inditex) is significantly outpacing US rival Gap with 10% sales growth over the past year versus Gap’s 23% decline.

These numbers are pretty convincing. One noticeable difference between the two firms is their level of internationalisation. Zara operates in 73 countries. Gap is in 6. Could that be the explanation for the divergence in performance?

Well, the news on Swedish competitor H&M muddies the water considerably. They have also announced a 12% profit drop (although sales did grow). These guys operate in 29 countries. We are this left in a bit of a conundrum. Is it the number of countries driving the story?

gap-storeIt would seem there is a clearer story in the area of margins. Inditex’s gross margin is 56.8% versus Gap’s 37.5%. H&M is also at 56.8% (but it is dropping, while Zara stays stable). These figures tell us that it is firm capabilities that are probably making all the difference.

Inditex and H&M run very tight ships, with super lean supply chains. This allows them considerable leeway in terms of lower pricing. Gap is less efficient, and also more exposed to the damaged and increasingly thrifty US consumer market. It cannot absorb lower prices at the consumer end quite as well. Put simply, it also just doesn’t deliver as exciting or new a product as its two European rivals.

hm-store1Turning quickly to H&M it is notable that they are bearing the brunt of rising costs from Asia more than Inditex. Inditex owns a great deal more of its production facilities and thus is less prone to suppliers leaning on them in tough times (and/or passing on costs). This also means Inditex must continue growing so as to make production investments worth it.

What’s the upshot of all this? Trying to find a general multinationality-performance relationship seems rather futile once we note the huge variations in other equally substantial strategy choices and the execution thereof.