Cut from the same cloth: Esprit tries on Zara for fashion makeover

Sun Dec 1, 2013 4:10pm EST
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By Clare Baldwin and Sarah Morris

HONG KONG/MADRID (Reuters) - Esprit Holdings' 0330.HK chief is doubling down on a bet to fix the struggling clothing retailer he took charge of a year ago by revamping its existing business model and recreating it in the image of his former employer-now-rival, Zara.

Jose Manuel Martinez Gutierrez, 44, has stacked his management suite with veterans of Zara owner Inditex ITX.MC, the world's biggest retailer whose model of rapidly changing fashion analysts say is among the best in the industry.

He also unveiled upgrades to technology and distribution to help his new hires get clothes designed, manufactured and on the racks in three to four months from the current seven to eight month time frame.

Now, all he has to do is get customers to buy the clothes.

The former McKinsey consultant and supply-chain whiz has laid the foundations for Esprit's recovery over the next 12-18 months with his nuts and bolts overhaul - he cut 10 percent of Esprit staff in the past year - but the real gauge of success will be in growing sales.

And in today's increasingly crowded market for high-street fashion, that means being able to adapt to the rapidly changing and divergent tastes of price-sensitive shoppers.

"We are mostly focusing now on improving all of our products' design and value for money, rather than on rethinking our sales strategy," Martinez told Reuters.

To succeed, he will need buy-in from every part of the business, ranging from Esprit's design and sourcing departments to its marketing managers.   Continued...

People shop at an Esprit Outlet store in Singapore September 10, 2013. REUTERS/Edgar Su