Anthropologie's Peter Ruis: Spanish launch is the start of a big European expansion
Anthropologie arrived in Europe in 2009 with the opening of its first store in London. Ten years later and the American retailer is seeking to become more European. At least that's how Peter Ruis, managing director of the company's international business since last July, explained it to FashionNetwork.com.
Having served as CEO of Jigsaw for five years, the executive came to the URBN-owned brand three months after the exit of its CEO David McCreight. Now under the direction of Hillary Super and Andrew Carnie, the retail chain reported revenue growth of 8.76% to $1.6 billion last year, consolidating its position as URBN's leading brand. The group, which also owns Free People and Urban Outfitters, reported sales of $3.95 billion.
Following the opening of the retailer's first Spanish store in Barcelona at the beginning of February, the executive spoke to FashionNetwork.com about the chain's future plans. Top priorities include the acceleration of the brand's growth in Europe, as the company sets its sights on Germany, Paris, Amsterdam and Madrid, and the evolution of its digital strategy, particularly important for a brand best known for its characteristic brick-and-mortar locations.
FashionNetwork.com: What does the Spanish launch mean for Anthropologie? Why have you chosen Barcelona for this move?
Peter Ruis: I think the Spanish launch is the start of a huge European expansion for Anthropologie and Barcelona is such a famous city and probably the first going tourist city and it’s a very iconic city so I think it’s very emblematic of the new push to go to Europe. So it’s part of Anthropologie becoming more European.
FNW: What are the main goals and how do you see the brand growing in Spain? What kind of strategy do you have and what are your medium-term plans?
So our initial strategy is for the Barcelona opening to be successful and to try to find the site in Madrid as soon as possible and then launch a Spanish language website within 12 months, watch those three channels work together and then assess. We think the brand is very very Spanish in its taste level. We know that from London. And who knows? If it works, we may go to San Sebastian, where people keep telling me it’s amazing to open a store, or Bilbao or Sevilla, so who knows?
FNW: How do you create a strong brand positioning in Spain, a market that is dominated by fast fashion?
PR: Anthropologie does this quite naturally by being so distinct, whether via our eclectic assortment – from dresses, to flowerpots, to chocolate – or our unique visual merchandising. There is nothing quite like Anthropologie so within Spain it creates it’s own market. In terms of "fast fashion" the assortment changes every week so there is no sense of being ‘slower’ than our competition. Finally, a key factor for us is our local positioning. Within Barcelona there are products from local artisans and designers, and store design from local artists.
FNW: What are Anthropologie’s plans in terms of expansion? Are you planning any further openings and where? For example, there have been rumours about a possible opening on Rue de Rivoli in Paris.
PR: Yes, we do have plans across Europe, so definitely at the top or our list would be Paris, we already spoke about Madrid, and we are opening in more cities in Germany – we are looking at Hamburg and Berlin strongly – and then, the sky is the limit. We like Belgium, Switzerland, Italy… so we are looking to get across Europe but in the short term, probably Germany, Paris, Amsterdam and Madrid would be our priorities.
(At the end of fiscal 2018, Anthropologie operated 226 stores, of which 204 are in the United States, 12 in Canada and 10 in Europe. Last year, the retailer opened 4 locations, all in the US. According to the company's annual report, the chain has 5 openings planned for this year.)
FNW: How are you preparing for the uncertainty and the eventualities that Brexit might bring? Do you have any concrete plans or measures?
PR: It is one of these very complicated political questions. Ultimately there are two forms of Brexit. There is a hard Brexit, which is a very difficult thing to plan for, but we have a number of logistical plans to combat it. And in terms of an amicable Brexit we have our plans in place and we will adapt as everyone else has to adapt. And we hope that it will be a deal that is positive for business and positive for the movement of people across Europe and that is all we can do.
FNW: Has your appointment in July meant a change of strategy for the company or rather a continuation? What are your priorities for Anthropologie?
PR: My appointment in July was to fast track strategies, so we see the strength of the brand is just in the right moment. We see the opportunity in the USA is being more limited in terms of physical store openings so it's first tracking strategy around two things: one to roll out stores quicker, two to become more omnichannel and link everything together, three to provide more European points of view in our product and develop more of our product from London with a European sensibility and I think Barcelona with Maria Herreros is an example of how local we would like to be.
FNW: Beyond the online launch in China and Israel, what are Anthropologie’s next steps in e-commerce? What role do online sales play in the overall sales picture?
We approach e-commerce as our number one store in every country. You could say it's our flagship wherever we go, but wherever the brand is present we do intend to have a physical presence. We feel like the heart and soul of Anthropologie is in its stores. In the USA, because we were stores first and web second, we are coming up to 30-35% web, it's inevitable in our modern world. When you go to new territory like Spain, inevitably you are going to be probably 30% physical and 70% online, so as we attack the rest of the globe we probably see it as a strategy where physical stores will never be more than 50% and are probably more likely to be 20%. The future is digital.
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