WOOLWORTHS has big plans for the Witchery and Mimco brands in South Africa, according to group director of planning for clothing and general merchandise, Paula Disberry.
“You’ll see us doing similar things that we’ve done with Country Road and Trenery. We are excited, in particular about Witchery in SA, as well as Australia. It’s becoming more fashion forward, targeting a younger customer, somebody who is looking for a slightly smarter, sexier, more glamorous look. We think that fits well in our portfolio because we don’t have any meaningful offer of that type of merchandise at this point and at those price points.
“We think it will get particular traction with the Gauteng customer, and in particular the younger black customer,” said Ms Disberry.
Country Road‚ Woolworths’ 88%-owned subsidiary, concluded the acquisition of 40-year-old fashion retailer Witchery Group from Gresham Private Equity for A$172m (R1.6bn) in October.
“You will see us putting them in Woolworths ‘big white box’ as we do with Country Road and hopefully stand-alone stores,” Ms Disberry said. It is expected that Woolworths will launch the brands in South Africa in a year. Over the past five years Woolworths has made big shifts in its clothing business in a bid to get the right product, in the right place, at the right time and at the right price.
The company has invested a significant amount of money in an end-to-end suite of systems, and has built functional skill in its business by establishing a merchant academy where its buyers, planners, technologists and designers are trained. It also uses customer data to segment merchandise and plan the layout of its stores.
“Customers are seeing a very different product from us, but at the same time it’s driving profitability,” said Ms Disberry.
The firm’s procurement strategy has allowed it to shorten lead times, as it focuses on a fast-response model — amid international retailers such as Zara expanding in South Africa.
The group head of design, sourcing and technology for clothing at Woolworths, Darren Todd, said: “We still have a very strong presence here in SA from a manufacturing perspective, but what we’ve done is identify centres of excellence in China, Bangladesh, India, Madagascar and Mauritius — our journey offshore has been about identifying innovation and differential product.”