What Helen Connolly – New Bonmarche CEO – Has to Do

Bonmarche did not have the best year in 2016, with slumping sales and poor weather. However, they are once again trying to make their mark on the country, with new advertisements, new demographics, and, most of all, a new boss. So what is on Helen Connolly’s to do list?

The first half year update released by Bonmarche showed some very worrying figures. In fact, its profits were 50% lower than before, and the like for like sales were down even more. This gave rise to its second profit warning in just one year. However, in August 2016, the store was taken over by Helen Connolly, who previously managed Asda. She entered her job with four key issues to resolve.

  1. The Customer

In one of her first interviews, Connolly stated that her top priority was about defining the store’s demographic and ensuring the right products were available. This is a significant challenge, because people change their minds more often than the British weather. To meet her goal, Connolly has changed the profile of the customer, simplifying it. Gone are the days of their four personas (Joan, Margaret, Linda, and Susan), with one profile, Lisa, replacing the all. Bonmarche traditionally caters to women over 50, with their average customer age being 65. However, a 50 year old woman today feels different than a 50 year old woman 30 years ago. And “Lisa” represents that.

  1. The Competition

Finding a way to be better than the competition is the next challenge. With BHS out of business, Bonmarche has a unique opportunity to target the over 50s, but it must do so quickly. All retailers, whether they are performing well (JD Williams for instance) or poorly (Matalan for instance) are trying to fill the gap left by the closure of BHS. There are two things that Bonmarche has that others don’t, however, being that it has a specialized focus, and a clearly defined stance on value. Hence, differentiating itself is reasonably easy. It does, according to experts, have to modernize, however.

  1. The Product

Bonmarche must ensure that its products become relevant to “Lisa” and what she represents, rather than to Lisa’s mother. Connolly has committed to this, but in a limited way at present. Rather, the store wants to continue to offer its same stock, but at a slowly reducing rate, slowly introducing their customers to the new products. To achieve this, they have hired a new product director, Geraldine Higgins, who previously worked for Monson. The new collection includes some of the new garments, and preliminary results show the customer is impressed. However, whether this is sustainable remains to be seen.

  1. The Supply Chain

70% of all Bonmarch stock comes from China, and it can take around 26 weeks for materials to arrive. Connolly aims to turn this around, working instead with producers from Morocco, Turkey, and India. It is not yet clear how and to what extent the store will diversify their base of suppliers, but Connolly is driving through these new changes.

One other thing that Connolly is attempting to introduce is the “open to buy” concept. This means that, every season, some of the budget will be held back so that, if a season becomes unseasonable, the store can respond to that by changing their stock without having to wait 26 weeks for it. Through these changes and areas of focus, Connolly believes that she will be able to turn Bonmarche around again. She is a woman known to act, and act quickly, and that seems to be precisely what she is doing here.

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