Debenhams is the UK's second largest department store operator (after John Lewis), specialising in affordable designer fashion as well as home furnishings, beauty products and household goods. The group has experienced something of a rollercoaster ride in recent years. During the 1990s, a new management team installed by what was then Burton Group successfully reinvented what had been one of the country's most staid and old fashioned retail chains. Spun off as an independent company, Debenhams' success continued during the early 2000s under new chief executive Belinda Earl, before it fell prey to private equity buyers in 2003. Performance has been less sure-footed since then, especially after the group went public again in 2006. Despite the challenging retail environment, Debenhams seemed to have turned the corner in the late 2000s, stealing market share even from traditional rivals such as Marks & Spencer with its "Designers at Debenhams" initiative, in which it signed up a star-cast of celebrated mid-range fashion designers to produce exclusive private-label collections. But a new set of problems emerged towards the end of 2013, and performance has steadily but surely declined since then. Revenues have been flat for several years at around £2.3bn, but profits have been falling as a result of competition from online sellers as well as steep increases in rent and rates. A sharp downturn across the UK department store sector during 2018 forced Debenhams to issue a series of profit warnings, and it is expected to shutter several more of its 174 UK & Ireland stores and seek buyers for Danish retail chain Magasin du Nord. Former Amazon Fashion Europe chief Sergio Bucher became CEO in 2016. Debenhams traces its history back to 1778 when William Clark established a drapers store in London to sell expensive fabrics, bonnets, gloves and parasols. In 1813, William Debenham acquired a controlling interest in the firm, which then took the name Clark & Debenham. The Debenham family continued to own the business until it went public in 1928.
Capsule checked 12th October 2018
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Adbrands Social Media 10th Nov 2017: "You Shall Find Your Fairytale Christmas". J Walter Thompson has summoned up all its creative juices for a last burst of imagination for fashion department store Debenhams. Sadly, it's all too late; had the agency pulled off a similar feat last year, they wouldn't be losing the account in the New Year. Even with its Cinderella story steal, we found ourselves unexpectedly charmed by the film, definitely Debenhams' best for many years. Some nice touches throughout, good-looking leads, and capped by a pleasing cameo from Ewan McGregor.
Adbrands Weekly Update 9th Jan 2014: A number of UK retailers suffered a poor or worse Christmas, with competition heightened and profitability severely dented by heavy discounting. In a sign of growing desperation, several stores began their seasonal sales even before Christmas Day, prompting what has been described as a "sea of red" on the High Street. British department store Debenhams was first out of the gates with bad news, announcing its second profit warning in a year. Like-for-like (LFL) sales were marginally higher than the year ago period, but profits were down, as gains from online shopping failed to offset an in-store slump. Trading rival John Lewis had completely the opposite experience, with combined sales up over 7% in the five weeks up to the end of December. As with Debenhams, the strongest gains were online, with ecommerce jumping almost 23% year on year, compared to a gain of just 1% in-store. There was a similar story at another department store operator, House Of Fraser, which claimed the best Christmas in its history as a result of a near 58% leap in online business, and total LFL up over 7%.
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