Hot on the heels of BHS's collapse, Austin Reed follows suit

29 April 2016

David Shukri

David Shukri

Former Retail Industry Specialist

Well, this time it's a retail centenarian that has hit the buffers. This time it's posh tailor Austin Reed, proving modern retail cares little for status or reputation. While its owner’s conduct might not be under the spotlight in the same way as BHS’s, it's impossible not to ask what they've been doing since turnover started falling back in 2011.

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I'm not hugely nostalgic but I do nevertheless feel a touch of sadness that such an iconic brand should be nearing such an ignominious end. My father, who's 84, has always spoken fondly of Austin Reed and that more or less encapsulates the problem. He's 84. He has little need for suits, waistcoats and bow-ties. If he did, he would be extremely unlikely to buy the latter for £29.90 even if you did throw in a second one half price (a real and rather strange promotion I discovered on the retailer’s website yesterday!).

Yet surely this comes as no surprise. People age, they retire and they consume less. If you've not got a plan to appeal to new shoppers and replace that dwindling business, you've got a challenge on your hands.

It's the same problem that BHS had. Austin Reed has become a brand with no audience. Few people today care about its products, its shopping experience, or the cachet of being one of its customers. It's very frustrating because interest in a brand rarely evaporates overnight and there's so much that traditional retailers can do to evolve and reposition themselves in today’s market.

Back in 2011 when the sales started falling, where was the voice that said "Hang on a minute chaps, we could have a problem here. What’s our plan?".

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Where was the analysis of the customer base? Where was the range overhaul and the targeted marketing campaign designed to excite and entice a new generation of customers?

How about some social engagement or a little brand endorsement from a Benedict Cumberbatch-type star? What about that website? Good gracious me! Staring at a blank screen would be more engaging.


Any of this stuff might have made a difference, but I suppose what's becoming clear is that some businesses simply cannot or will not embrace the modern world.

For the record, it's doubtful the collapse of Austin Reed and BHS really does signal ‘the end of the high street’ as some doomsayers are proclaiming. In fact, more brands will sadly, but inevitably go to the wall and the high street will still remain. It'll remain because there are many other retailers who are embracing change, transforming the way they operate, using technology to their advantage and taking control of their own destiny.

It's hard saying goodbye to the past, but it's great looking forward to the future of retail.

About the author

David Shukri

Former Retail Industry Specialist

David is what you would call a retail enthusiast. Friends are bemused when he tells them he has been to a local mall or food store while on holiday, just to see what they look like. Put simply, he thinks retail is fascinating; showing how cultures, societies and behaviours change over time. Since his first job in the sector as a Supply Chain Forecaster for Sainsbury’s over ten years ago, he has been enthralled by retail.

Since then, David has worked in leadership, insight and commercial roles and had the chance to develop his other great joy – public speaking. Combining his interest in retail and love of communicating with others, he has hosted events, moderated panels, facilitated workshops and shared ideas that have helped people to cut through the flannel of the business world and do a better job for their customers.

Understanding customers’ needs is a key part of David’s focus: sharing relevant and engaging messages to help build better relationships. With such a deep appreciation for how the retail sector works, and the challenges it faces, David is perfectly positioned to see where the opportunities lie to deploy technology that adds value where it is needed the most.  

David is a retail industry champion.

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