Is there a lesson to be learned from the demise of Store Twenty One, the UK clothing chain that went into liquidation last Friday?
Could it be that markets don’t have room for more than one fashion retailer with 21 in its title?
Last April the US teen apparel chain Rue 21 shuttered 400 of its shops. Now England’s Store Twenty One has closed all of its 202 outlets and laid off 900 staff.
Meanwhile the cut price fashion competitor Forever 21, subject of an Emmy award winning documentary about sweat shop conditions in its Los Angeles factory, continues to cut swathes through both markets – and in recent years launched two new clothing lines, Love 21 and XXI Forever.
Store Twenty One was a ‘value retailer’ but clearly failed to offer enough customers the kind of value they wanted.
Reacting to the closure of one of its branches, a local resident told the Nottingham Post:
“Although I am gutted for the staff that worked there, I did find it expensive for what they sold.
“I personally would like something like a Peacocks, someone that sells nice clothes, shoes and the basics (ie socks, pants, pjs, hats, gloves etc) especially for kids,” she added.
After the upmarket fashion chain Jaeger failed in April, analysts commented that its management seemed not to know who their customers were. The same may have been true of Store Twenty One.
Hardly anyone is wearing its clothes on its Facebook page – a flowery and folorn Spring catalogue on coat hangers. Maybe the money for models had run out.
Forever 21’s and Primark’s Facebook pages seem more in tune with today’s streetwise, bargain hungry, out of season shoppers.
Judging by its website, and web presence, Store Twenty One was still strugglling with omni-channel. Fashion chains that have invested heavily in online channels – Zara and H&M for example – have surged ahead in the past year.
Store Twenty One’s turnover in recent years had declined from £95 million to £57 million with sustained losses over the past few years.
The company started in the 1930s as a manufacturing business supplying retailers including Marks & Spencer. It subsequently opened its own branches, selling seconds, but in the 1980s changed tack, rebranding the chain as QS.
In 1990 it was floated on the London Stock Exchange but taken private in 2002 and sold again to Alok, an Indian textiles company with a chequered financial history, five years later. It rebranded again as Store Twenty One nearly a decade ago after a restructuring that involved the closure of 140 shops.
Compare that history with the story of the Korean American couple who founded Forever 21 in 1984 and grew it to become the fifth largest specialty retailer in the United States. Do Won Chang and his wife defied lawsuits over labour practices and copycat styles, and survived consumer boycotts. Maybe that also tells us something.
A spokesman for the company handling Store Twenty-One’s liguidation said: “It is very sad that matters have got to the stage where all the stores were closed by management on Friday following a prolonged period of uncertainty leading up to the liquidation.
He added: “The traditional retail sector continues to face significant challenges, not least with the changes in business rates. The company was founded in 1932 and unfortunately it is another example of the difficulties arising in the current economy.”