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JD Williams-to-Simply Be retail group heralds ‘significant transformation’ and growing social engagement through challenging year in which sales and profits fell

Jacamo's new mobile-first website will launch next year. Image: N Brown Group

N Brown Group says it’s ‘significantly transformed’ after a ‘challenging year’ in which sales and profits fell – but social engagement and sales grew as it found more relevant ways to talk to its customers. 

The JD Williams, Simply Be and Jacamo parent company and home shopping group has closed ‘legacy’ brands including High & Mighty and House of Bath over the course of the year, and and moved Figleaves brand lingerie to Simply Be. It said customers had moved to buy instead from its strategic brands – JD Williams, Jacamo, Ambrose Wilson and Simply Be. During the year it also started a new strategic brand, Home Essentials, to benefit from the growing demand over the year for homewares and gifts. The category accounted for 41% of sales over the last year – up from 29% a year earlier. 

The update came as N Brown Group today reported sales of £728.8m in the year to February 27. That’s 13% down on the same time last year, with product sales 14.4% down at £468.4m, and revenue from financial services 10.4% down at £260.4m. Pre-tax profits of £35.1m were 27% down from £48.1m a year earlier. 

Steve Johnson, N Brown Group chief executive, said in his first full-year statement in the role: “In a year where we have all had to overcome multiple challenges, we have continued our transformation of the group through a relentless focus on our five strategic brands, improving our product offering and enhancing our digital capabilities, all of which will position us better with our target customers. Although we remain cautious we are beginning to see some early signs of progress.”

He adds: “Whilst wider consumer dynamics remain uncertain as we emerge from lockdown, we have significantly transformed the shape of the business from where it was at the start of the pandemic,” he says.

Engaging with customers

N Brown Group says that social media-generated sales grew by 27% in a year in which it boosted its Facebook and Instagram combined followings to 1.9m, 14% added during the year. Its new affordable Home Essentials brand, launched in response to growing demand for home and garden products during the pandemic, already has 82,000 followers on Facebook and Instagram pages launched in April 2020. It is targeting 25-45-year-old mums who have chidden at home. 

The retailer completed a £100m equity raise at the end of 2020 and the cash, says Johnson, will enable it to invest in strategic priorities including moving its digital platform away from a legacy technology stack, and investing in new front-ends for its brand websites. It will also invest in digital and social activity, and in building its brand in order to “communicate what makes our brands special and unique to our customers” while making sure they are “visible in the most relevant way to our target customer, and in a way and at times at they are most receptive to receiving this message through channels including above the one marketing and social media.” In practice, this will mean  “a significant focus on social media” for Simply Be and Jacamo and a focus on broadcast campaigns at JD Williams and Home Essentials.

The retailer is also working to improve the quality of its range through improved design and through selling hird-party brands. So far it has added Finery and Nobody’s Child to the Simply Be website add plans to add French Connection, Sonder and Khost to JD Williams later this year while increasing its existing ranges from brands including Hobbs, Joules and Monsoon. 

JD Williams is ranked Top100 and Jacamo and Simply Be Top150 in RXUK Top500 research. 

N Brown Group, based in Manchester, employs more than 1,800 people across the UK. The group moved to the Alternative Investment Market in December 2020. 

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