House of Fraser High Street Department Store

Can Mike Ashley save the high street?

Mike Ashley, CEO of Sports Direct has been making headlines recently, with his recent purchases and bids or interest in for high street retail stores: House of Fraser, Debenhams and LK Bennett. But as high street stores continue to struggle, can Mike Ashley really save the high street?

A few weeks ago, I put this question out to my network of contacts on LinkedIn, that include town centre managers, council officials, regeneration managers and retail teams to discuss if Ashley’s strategy was supportive of the high street or if it was causing further issues? My question was met with varied responses.

To date, we’ve not seen any strategy plans or declarations of Ashley’s retail intentions other than to take House of Fraser upmarket to the ‘luxury retail sector’. However, he has added a delivery charge, admitted a five-day delivery delay and removed the convenient click and collect option from stores, which has upset customers who are time sensitive and require an option to order and collect quickly.

On a recent visit to the House of Fraser’s Victoria Street store, I observed that the store now has a Sports Direct end-of-line type display, with sales style racks on the top floor, detracting from a recent attempt to upgrade the shop and affecting the shopper experience.

The Evans acquisition makes sense, but the others don’t without a full end-to-end strategic plan and campaign. Think about what happened to Lilywhites at Piccadilly Circus after it was taken over. It lost its shopping experience and became a ‘pile them high, sell then cheap’ store full of football kits and end of line clothing rather than a quality sports shop.

Without understanding his plans, I see a decline in quality of stock and the shop environment, which in turn affect the experience, customers and sales. Ashley needs to work on creating an innovative retail space that entices and engages consumers if he truly wants to take over the high street.