Hobbs: keeping a heritage brand relevant

Timeless British style for smart, busy women is Hobbs’ mantra, but how can classic fashion also meet the increasingly dynamic, digital needs of the modern shopper?

Blending heritage with innovation was the subject of Hobbs CEO Meg Lustman’s session at this year’s British Retail Consortium (BRC) Symposium – and she has a clear idea of how the womenswear retailer must evolve to stay relevant to its customers.

Part of Lustman’s success in the role of CEO is down to the fact that her experience stretches beyond the fashion industry; a spell at John Lewis has hugely influenced her current role. “John Lewis has gone from a highly functional brand that we all liked, to a brand that we have an emotional connection with,” she shared.

Among the best practices Lustman has taken from John Lewis to Hobbs is an incredibly customer-centric ethos. She describes the brand’s target market as an ‘underserved psychographic’; powerful, driven women that are constantly juggling the needs of work, family and daily life; women that are confident about who they are, but also modest; they never want to feel inappropriate.

The Hobbs brand is trusted implicitly by this highly targeted consumer group and, as such, they trust Hobbs to push the envelope. They want them to take risks, and to act as a style guide, helping them to broaden their individual style.

Developing the purpose of its fashion range was key to Hobbs’ success here. A go-to retailer for workwear and special occasion outfits, it tends to be thought of as a place to acquire investment pieces. With Lustman at the helm it has enhanced its ‘faithful’ range – a selection of timeless wardrobe staples to love and live in every day.

Hobbs’ bid to stay relevant to the modern audience extends far further than its product range. Its entire marketing strategy has been tailored around its core audience, developing a tone of voice that will resonate with their lifestyles.

The business infrastructure has changed to become more responsive to their customer’s busy schedules, developing a channel agnostic approach. It has created a new trading director role – a senior professional who doesn’t care about where the customer interacts, so long as their experience is seamless.

Its 50-strong store network has undergone a digitalisation – WiFi is now available to all customers, and sales associates now have access to tablets (with full training provided) – and it’s launched a new CRM system to create a loyalty scheme based on value, rather than price.

In short, Hobbs is striving for new ways to be relevant to, and get personal with, customers in all channels.

And it appears to be working; at 35 years of age, the Hobbs brand shows no signs of slowing down. Tactical expansion into international territories is next on the list, based largely on analytics of its current overseas customer base. Lustman has a clear strategy for this, too: “give yourself the time and resources to test and learn,” is her number one piece of internationalisation advice, followed by “have an agile culture that can make changes based on those learnings”.

If Hobbs’ global customer base turns out to be anywhere as loyal as its UK fans, the next 35 years look rosy.

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