Jack Wills has had the fortune of being a luxury clothing brand that has not compromised its pricing strategy or structure even at the hardest economic times in the company’s history and is seemingly still delivering supreme customer value without breaking a corporate sweat. The youthful university marketed brand shows no sign of stopping as the company continues to growth from strength the strength leaving competitors standing in a midst of price wars and promotions that simply are not differentiating enough to secure repeat customers.
Annual results filed on Companies House reveal that profit before tax increased 57 per cent year-on-year, rising from £6.69 million in 2009/10 to £10.49 million in 2010/11. Last year saw the university outfitter open its first US stores, and operations in the new territory helped group turnover jump from £64.7 million to £92 million over the course of the year, a rise of 43 per cent. Its Rest of the World division, which includes the new US business, reported sales of £1.65 million for the 12 months to the end of January, compared to £1.05 million in the previous financial period.
Jack wills is not shy or shameless with its aggressive snobbery strategy of the brand positioning to the ‘well off/well to do’ affluent segments of university customers and their paying parents. The brand delivers very high quality garments across male and female ranges and has an extensive attractive set of peripheral products such as sports hand luggage, towels and stationary, some at sky high prices.
There is a very Eton feel to brand and upon visiting a store they are exceptionally are well fitted and executed with lush detail that supports either a full day out at the Henley boat race of a day, a rah shopping trip to Chelsea or a day at the Polo championships with HRH Prince Henry Windsor. Where does brand Wills gain its core sources of competitive advantage when price is such a key component to marketing?
Social media demonstrates strong evidence of a real ‘love’ for the brand and there is vast evidence to suggest Jack Wills has truly understood its marketable areas and has captured, nurtured and captivated its customers existing and new to continue to purchase without price becoming a negative.
One of the critical success factors surprisingly is the length of the lifecycle of some of the product ranges. Typically male shirts produced at key times (such as Christmas) have an incredibly long fashion lifecycle which is highly unusual as many youth markets have an interstellar desire to swap tastes and trends and historically often don’t adhere to a clothing brand loyalty. It is perceived by the youth consumers that it is ‘cool’ to wear fashions for more than a year and are respected as ‘vintage years’ as if they were a Dom Perignon champagne or a Rioja wine from the nineties.
Fascinating to understand then that in 2, 3 or 4 years time the products have retained their style, distinctive colour and even look brand new (ageless) providing key insight into the success of the brands strategy. One of the value propositions is created through well designed, quality products that have a robust posh reputation with a long lifecycle (value for money) that is not limited to current mainstream fashion trends.
This ensures that a key source of Wills differentiation strategy and competitive advantage comes from its monarchical style approach attitude through the marketing of its quality products, attitude to consumer markets and its strength in management, striding foreword with militant intent.
A similar business/marketing model with a proven track record has been demonstrated by the iconic USA brand ‘Abercrombie & Fitch’ (A&F). A&F uses an integrated blend of fashion sexualisation twinned with cutting edge preppy style and superior material quality along its unisex product ranges and primes itself on having ‘vintage years’ within clothing ranges that are priced as highly as £120 per T-shirt.
Such expensive pricing models help Abercrombie & Fitch to force a living elitism and a strong brand identity supported by its highly loyal customer base whilst remaining in traditional malls. There is a public relations element to this business activity but in essence it creates an elite brand community that appreciate this type of high end product ranges which again help create differentiation from competing clothing brands in malls.
Jack Wills in comparison has potentially a stronger strategy in principle and could potentially give the brand the ultimate competitive advantage in this clothing segment as they do not sexualize their brand they purely keep it focused on royal, affluent and university students that clearly identify with Eton, Oxford and Cambridge. With the Wills brand moving to USA markets the consumers in this territory will highly embrace links to royalty and anything of British heritage as these consumers fully embrace and understand in detail the linkages.
The USA has an enormous university culture and with multiple brands already cashing in on the lucrative opportunities that exist through student customers. Jack Wills have highly relevant core competences and products that are easily adaptable scalable and deployable to this customer group and looking at the financial and market growth potential if this is executed correctly could be nothing short of phenomenal. Perhaps then Abercrombie & Fitch should be watching with pinpoint intelligence and brand radar scanning for this new kid on the block Jack Wills, else it could well be ’Abercrombie & Flinch!’
Kevin Tewis 2012
Published March 2012 http://www.cimlondon.co.uk/blog/