What went wrong for Beatties? Retail experts analyse the downfall
Expert claims dated department stores were more like Grace Brothers
“They haven’t moved with the times and it looks like it they have paid the ultimate price.”
Retail expert Prof Chris Edger is under no illusions as to why House of Fraser has found itself about to close 31 stores as part of a desperate rescue package that will shed 6,000 jobs.
He says a failure to embrace the digital age has contributed greatly to the business’s downfall – and it is not just the lack of success with regards to its online shopping offer.
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According to Prof Edger, Beatties in Wolverhampton and Birmingham’s Rackhams store have fallen behind their competitors in almost every area.
“I’m afraid these stores are like Grace Brothers,” he said, referring to the fictional department store in the hit BBC sitcom Are You Being Served?
“Of course Grace Brothers was a parody of department stores at a certain time, which makes the state of these places today quite sad.
“With Beatties what you are stuck with is a bunch of departments within the store that don’t thrill, they don’t excite. What they offer is being done far better and far cheaper elsewhere.
“On that basis, the concept of stores like Beatties has run its course.”
Prof Edger, who is chair of multi-unit leadership at Birmingham City University, says House of Fraser stores have been ‘picked off’ by ‘digital interlopers’ who as far as customers are concerned, simply ‘do it better’.
“If you are not premium and you are not value, then you are stuck in the middle with a bland offer,” he says.
“Quite simply, you are vulnerable.
“In times gone by these were emporia where people would spend hours browsing for gifts, perfume, clothes, homewares. In all of these areas digital operators have taken control.
“There are department stores who have moved with the times and become more interactive, such as Selfridges, which offers a whole experience.
“It has a food court area, it has upmarket concessions, is more craveable and makes people want to go there. The same cannot be said of Beatties.
“I would imagine running the place has been extremely difficult. It has become an odd mix of different departments, that all came in at different times and it hasn’t worked.
“It is seen as the place where your mother or your grandmother went and is, as far as most people are concerned, out of date.”
Prof Edger says the problems faced by House of Fraser paint a bleak picture of the future for Britain’s high street, which is under threat from store closures like never before.
“If I was running, for example, Debenhams, I would be very worried indeed,” he says. “When the big stores struggle you also have to consider the impact on smaller stores in our towns and cities.
“What happens to them when a major draw like Beatties goes? The result is our high streets become more residential-led, more food-led, and more entertainment-led.”
Prof Mike Haynes, of the University of Wolverhampton, said Beatties was a casualty of a sector that had been quaking under pressure for decades.
Long before in fact, House of Fraser took it over in 2005.
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He said that while the store was once the centre of city life, it was now ‘the wrong shop, selling the wrong things, in the wrong place, at the wrong time’.
“Beatties is what retail analysts call an ‘anchor store’,” he said.
“There have always been people who came and still come to Wolverhampton because Beatties is there.
“You don’t have to buy much for the effect to work. You can just window-shop or try the perfume samples. Other shops and businesses could then build on the buzz that arose because Beatties was there.
“But the pressure on the department store sector has been constant for more than two decades.
“Beatties has suffered as much as most. This was evident even before the internet shopping boom and before it was taken over House of Fraser.”
Prof Haynes says House of Fraser ‘was never sure’ what to do with Beatties, and scrapped its original plan to rebrand the store in the wake of local opposition.
“For a century Beatties and Wolverhampton were as closely linked in peoples minds as Wolverhampton and Molineux,” he says.
“And that’s a horrible irony because as one goes up the other has now gone down.
“Just as Wolves success has been not only about the football but a bigger impact on the city, so the end of Beatties will be about a lot more than the loss of a place to shop and have a coffee.”