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Fitch

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Fitch is a leading international design consultancy, owned by WPP. It offers a broad range of services from brand planning and strategy to packaging, graphic design and naming, but Fitch is best-known for retail interior design. This discipline also differentiates it from the other two design groups in WPP's stable, Superunion and Landor, although it is increasingly closely linked to both.

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Fitch now operates 14 studios globally, including five in the US. It has an especially strong presence in the Middle East and Asia. Most of its international outposts were acquired during a period of rapid but comparatively uncoordinated expansion under different owners between 1999 and 2003. For a while the local studios continued to operate semi-autonomously under their original names, such as AAD: Fitch, Leonhardt: Fitch, PrimoAngeli: Fitch, and Fitch: RPA in the US; also PeclersParis: Fitch in New York and Paris; and Underline: Fitch across the Asia Pacific region. However since acquisition by WPP, all the different agencies have gradually dropped their separate branding and now carry just the umbrella Fitch name. Some outposts in more competitive markets have been closed or merged into other group-owned agencies. Fitch and Brand Union now operate under the banner of Group XP, alongside US-based experiential design agency Set Creative.

Advertising Age estimated global revenues of $56m for Fitch in 2014. In 2013, Brand Union CEO Simon Bolton expanded his role that year to become CEO of Fitch as well. (Former Fitch CEO Lois Jacobs transferred to the same role at Landor.) Bolton was succeeded in 2017 by David Blair. Tim Greenhalgh is chairman & chief creative officer.

Founder Rodney Fitch was one of Britain's best known designers, masterminding the public image at one time or another of many of the UK's best-known retail brands including Marks & Spencer, Boots, Tesco, Topshop, Asda, Debenhams, Woolworths and Ikea as well as Heathrow Airport's Terminal 4, BT, the Imperial War Museum and BP's London HQ. Ubiquitous retail features like stripped wood and chrome glass were introduced by him in the 1980s and 1990s. He received his training during the 1960s at Terence Conran's hugely influential Conran Design Group. At the end of the decade Conran jumped ship, selling the business to retail chain Ryman, who later sold it on fashion group Burton (now Arcadia). In 1972 Fitch bought the design consultancy back from Burton and relaunched it as a retail and product design specialist under the name Fitch & Co.

During that time Fitch became arguably the world's most admired design agency, widely credited with changing the face of retail design as a result of the overhaul of a string of ageing British high street chains, including the various Burton businesses. In 1982 it was the first design consultancy to go public, and in 1987 it acquired US product design firm Richardson Smith, becoming Fitch RS. However the group also dabbled unsuccessfully in property development, and came close to financial collapse in the early 1990s before being rescued by Fitch's original mentor, Terence Conran.

Fitch himself resigned from the business in 1994 after a disagreement with Conran and subsequently set up a rival agency, Rodney Fitch & Co, with backing from Virgin's Richard Branson. Meanwhile the main Fitch agency was acquired in 1999 by fast-growing US marketing services group Lighthouse Global Network, and further practices were added including Primo Angeli and Peclers Paris in the US. Lighthouse was in turn acquired by Cordiant and Fitch expanded further to house the design subsidiaries of Cordiant's Bates and 141 networks. It was all change once again in 2003 when Cordiant collapsed and was acquired by WPP.

By this time, the original Fitch brand was in serious need of an overhaul, spread too widely among its disparate subsidiaries, many of whose founders had themselves left, disenchanted by the group's repeated change of ownership. At the end of 2003 WPP tempted back Rodney Fitch to inject a more cohesive identity, and performance improved dramatically as a result. Fitch spent five years as group chairman before leaving once more at the end of 2009. He later worked as an independent consultant and as governor at the University of the Arts in London. He died in 2014, aged 76.

Last full revision 24th May 2016

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