Five ways Moss Bros is becoming more digital in its thinking

Menswear and suits retailer Moss Bros reported encouraging growth in its retail, hire and online businesses in the year to 30 January 2016, according to a preliminary results statement published by the company on Tuesday.

Group revenue was up by 5.5% year on year to reach £121.1 million, with underlying pre-tax profit jumping 23.1% to £5.9 million. Comparative sales for Retail and Hire grew by 7.6% and 11.7% respectively, while online trading was up by 36.3% and now represents 10% of total sales.

Verdict Retail analyst, Andrew Hall, said the retailer has been able to cope with a competitive environment, through measures such as exerting tighter control on promotional activity and stock levels. He suggested that Moss Bros has "astutely handled an evolving store portfolio over FY 2015/16, refitting a number of stores".

"The retailer's well-prepared multichannel offer also enabled it to prosper during the challenging Black Friday period," Hall added.

Essential Retail has picked out five key pillars of Moss Bros's multichannel strategy, which appear to be helping the business stay relevant and fit for modern retailing.

1. People power

Not only has Moss Bros appointed ex-Direct Line HR boss Sara Gomez as its new people director, a role that involves leading the roll-out of a set of customer- and multichannel-focused staff values known as the 'Moss Bros Way', but two other senior appointments have been made with a nod to future digital investment.

Chief operating officer, Paula Minowa, has been brought in from German retailer Strauss Innovation with the specific task of accelerating the development of the retailer's multichannel and international aspirations, while Tony Bennett will join as group finance director no later than August 2016 from Moss Bros's competitor, Charles Tyrwhitt.

He has been recruited to take the place of the retiring Robin Piggott, and brings with him a deep commercial background in online, multi-site and international consumer businesses from his time at businesses such as premium department store chain, Selfridges.

In this week's results statement, CEO Brian Brick said that further resourcing is expected in the year ahead.

"The adoption of Moss Bros as the master brand, supported by complementary sub brands and introduction of carefully targeted marketing activity has proved very successful," he commented.

"In order to maximise this opportunity, and with the increasing role that digital has to play in marketing, we are adding resource and capability in 2016 to support our multichannel proposition."

2. Changing the role of stores

The last financial year saw Moss Bros open four new stores in the UK while closing ten. A further four stores were relocated into larger sites in perceived better locations, and at year end, 81 of its 124 outlets were trading in a new format with a fresh brand image.

Brick believes his company's real estate portfolio offers flexibility to move with the times, with the average lease length across the store portfolio at 59 months and new terms being negotiated.

Moss Bros's former eCommerce director, Neil Sansom, who left to become CEO of Wool Overs last year, told Essential Retail in 2014 that the menswear retailer was investigating the possibility of opening showrooming stores where limited product ranges are stocked but where customers could still engage with the brand and order items.

He oversaw the introduction of click & collect in all Moss Bros stores, which is said to work well for a Moss Bros customer who may want to order online but try the outfit on before committing to a purchase. From Brick's comments this week, it looks as if the business is still considering new types of store for a digital age.

"The underpinning of [the] hire [business] and the demand for eCommerce click & collect and click & return points, together with advantageous lease deals, means there is an opportunity to expand our store footprint on a selective and cost effective basis, with good returns," he noted.

3. CRM commitment

Moss Bros has been talking about developing its customer relationship management (CRM) techniques for a number of years now, and has gradually been adding data from its separate departments – starting with the Hire business – to a central customer information database founded on software from OpenText-owned Cordys.

By integrating it with e-receipts for customers and other CRM tools, the business is confident that it is moving towards gaining a single view of its customers, no matter which channel they shop on. Brick even alluded to the fact that there is work to do to ensure more of the retailer's Hire customers actually know that Moss Bros operates a retail arm where products can be purchased on a permanent basis.

"Continuity of brand presentation and pricing across all our channels is paramount in ensuring excellent customer service and therefore customer experience," explained Brick.

"The introduction of customer relationship management and a customer services database will enhance the customer experience and perceptions of the brand."

4. Catching up on eCommerce

By Brick's own recognition, Moss Bros has been playing catch up in eCommerce – and that is one reason the growth it reported in this area, on Tuesday, is significantly above the wider retail industry average.

The work driven by Sansom in looking after eCommerce at Moss Bros, including venturing into new international territories and launching a new retail website and a dedicated transactional Hire site with the help of web agency, Remarkable, in 2013, is now led by Matt Henton, the former online boss at My-Wardrobe.

Expansion into international markets has been refocused to concentrate on local currency sites for the Republic of Ireland, Australia and the US, while eCommerce has reportedly proven to be an efficient way of clearing end-of-line stock with faster sell through rates and an improvement in prices achieved. Based on customer feedback, Moss Bros is set to make a few improvements to the sites in 2016 to boost conversion rates.

Henton is looking to add to his team in the coming months, with Brick saying: "We plan to exploit further growth opportunities both in the UK and overseas by strengthening our eCommerce team and building on our success and leveraging the advantages that full multichannel capability will bring, including CRM."

5. Eyeing up the back-end

Moss Bros's in-depth and time-consuming store refit programme over the last five years has not distracted the company from making investments in infrastructure.

Central costs are anticipated to increase in line with turnover in 2016/17 as the investment in multichannel capability continues – CAPEX is estimated at £9 million, including £3.3 million for 20 store refits and £2 million for hire stock – but this comes after the business successfully upgraded point of sale and eCommerce pick, pack and despatch systems in 2015.

Since 2014 all its main IT systems have been upgraded, and there are plans to continue to invest in this area as appropriate – although attention in 2016 has turned to the distribution centre (DC).

"With the introduction of multichannel, growth of eCommerce and shortening of product lead times, the efficiency of the DC is central to our ability to serve our customers," explained Brick.

"Following the investment made in IT in 2014/15 and 2015/16 we are currently reconfiguring space within the DC to increase capacity and capability to support business growth."

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