There’s no such thing as bad weather.
There’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothing – or so many parents are fond of telling their children. Despite this early lesson, fashion retailers are still quick to blame the weather whenever they have to report poor results.
In the UK, where the weather is by unspoken law mentioned in every conversation, this always seems slightly absurd. Weather in the UK is a constant factor, and even for retailers there is no bad weather – only the wrong clothes.
The retailer which currently sets the sales benchmark for the UK fashion sector would surely have to agree.
It might not cause debate in quite the same way that any announcement by John Lewis does; it might not advertise as ostentatiously as Marks & Spencer, and it doesn’t enrage shoppers like the experiential madhouse that is Sports Direct. Instead, Next has got on with the job of retailing, weathering the storms of downturns, pandemics and changing demands without ever looking like it has to try.
For the fourth time in five months, Next has alerted investors that its profits might be higher than forecast. It’s a nice problem to have.
Many retailers are struggling. Even some of the online fashion brands that were flavour of the month until quite recently are finding times tough. ASOS, for example, just announced a 10% drop in revenue and a 238% increase in operating losses.
When comparing brands such as Next and ASOS, it’s impossible to miss the glaringly different reaction to an inescapable factor. ASOS CEO José Antonio Ramos Calamonte partly attributes the brand’s mounting losses to the weather. But according to Next, the weather did cause variations in sales – but it says cooler October weather was ultimately a benefit.
Of course, it is more than just a pragmatic attitude to weather that sets Next apart. Another factor is its focus on long-term strategy. This includes the development of its Total Platform, which offers its experience and infrastructure in ecommerce, logistics and marketing to other retail brands as a service.
This expertise predates the internet, going back to the Next Directory and mail order shopping. Next prefers to take a stake in the other brands instead of a fee, opening a whole new income stream that sees it share mutual benefits with other brands.
The company is also expanding through acquisition – it is currently acquiring FatFace – and through creating new brands, as well as by growing overseas. So while some brands are at the mercy of the elements, Next operates on enough fronts to make even ‘bad’ weather something it can cope with.
The sun is always shining somewhere.