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Coast expands internationally as demand for occasion wear is universal

The fashion chain continues to expand its global presence as it finds worldwide appeal for its occasion-wear that is fitting the bill for parties, celebrations and smart events of all kinds around the world - from Europe to the Far East. By Glynn Davis

GENERAL MERCHANDISE

Coast expands internationally as demand for occasion wear is universal

The fashion chain continues to expand its global presence as it finds worldwide appeal for its occasion-wear that is fitting the bill for parties, celebrations and smart events of all kinds around the world - from Europe to the Far East. By Glynn Davis

Gail Anscomb, Director of international at Aurora Fashions-owned Coast, is due to present at the forthcoming Retail Bulletin International Expansion Conference in London on March 27th and ahead of the event she gave some insights into the company’s overseas strategy.

“The challenge for Coast was whether the brand would travel. The question was do other markets have events like the horse racing and do they have the equivalent of bridesmaids that make up a lot of our business? We found that yes, they do have events such as racing and proms, and they require occasion wear,” she explains. 

This was the question asked ahead of the brand going into the Middle East in 2004, its first overseas foray, and this has been followed by a move into Europe and further afield including the US and Australasia.

What has been critical to its expansion is identifying those markets where it does not have property knowledge, insights into the local market, and only limited knowledge of the local people. And in these areas it works with a local partner on a franchised basis. There is also the issue of proximity so most of the locations in Europe will invariably be run by Coast.

Its expansionary strategy has led to it currently operating 130 outlets (a mix of concessions and standalone stores), with Europe comprising 84, Middle East 29, Far East seven, and both Australasia and the US five. 

Around 55% of these are franchised and the remainder are company-owned, although Anscomb says the five-year plan is to take this to a 50:50 split. With its franchise partners she says it is essential that there is an “open, honest relationship and clarity on who is operating the brand”, which is essential for Coast as it ‘trades’ the various markets.

This means it is pro-actively involved in the Sales held in its franchised outlets: “We see the Sales, we plan them, and we see what’s working. It’s all about commercially transferring UK knowledge, which is a key to our success,” she says, adding that the key skill it exports is merchandising.

“The UK is very experienced with merchandising. Our partners have people who are very good but all our franchise partners do not necessarily know how to manage stock and margins as well as the UK. There is therefore a need to transfer these skills and make sure they understand how to ‘trade’,” she explains.

Where she sees great growth opportunities in the future is in the Middle East markets such as Jordan, Tunisia: “Women want occasion-wear dresses and there is very little competition in these markets. They are very small [retail markets] and the customers visit frequently - once a week.”

Another advantage for Coast is that even in these diverse markets the range it supplies to its outlets is largely the same. “For the Middle East there is a special range but it is only four or five items per month - that are slightly different in design. There is only a very small percentage of change across the various markets,” says Anscomb.

The Retail Bulletin International Expansion Conference is sponsored by GfK. Click here for further details.

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