- Back in the day it was the Edgars own-brands that made the Edgars brand so great
- Adding international brands into the Edgars own-brand mix was a mistake that led to a partial loss of control over the Edgars value proposition
- Edgars gave customers reason to become more-promiscuous shoppers and this resulted in infidelity to Edgars
- Poor brand fit of many of the international brands with Edgars own-brands resulted in customer confusion and a contradiction to what the Edgars brand had always stood for
- Right now Edgars is fighting hard and well to survive. It remains a formidable brand with a strong brand foundation on which to rebuild its jaded glory
Edgars brand roots
Largely, Edgars became SA’s biggest fashion retailer by offering customers a carefully crafted portfolio of Edgars own-brands – brands like Kelso, Merien Hall, Charter Club, Penny C and many others spanning multiple product categories. These own-brands were credible, unique and respected – and you could only buy them at Edgars. Each Edgars own-brand offered widee ranges of ‘fashionable’ items across three carefully strategized price/quality bands – namely good, better and best.
A user-friendly credit / customer club offering supported the own-brands strategy and this combination made Edgars the biggest, best and most credible fashion retailer brand in South Africa. The pay-off line “lots of super fashion, lots of time to pay” neatly summed up the essence of what gave Edgars its brand credibility.
Enter the Trojan horse
Then in the mid-1990’s, for reasons that seemed sound at the time, the idea arose of infusing the Edgars own-brand portfolio with some third-party international brands to enhance the overall appeal of the brand portfolio mix. This was at about the time of much bonhomie in the newly born New South Africa. South Africans were feeling like they were part of the world again, felt loved by the world and felt like they were doing well. Surely, they could afford to splash out on international brands. Their line of credit with Edgars would provide them with the means (and temptation) to make their purchases.
Interestingly, none of Edgars major competitors followed suit.
Most of these international (and a few local) brands were distributed to shoppers through some mid-size fashion retailers and through many smaller fashion boutiques. Now Edgars customers could shop for some of the items available at Edgars, in other stores. As things turned out, the decision to add international brands into the Edgars brand mix turned out to be a very bad one indeed.
Facilitating customer promiscuity led to disloyalty
For the first time, Edgars customers were able to compare competing offers on specific branded items at various different retailers and then purchase from the one offering ‘best deal’. Edgars had jeopardised customer patronage and loyalty by giving them cause to flirt with competitors to find the best deal on the branded items they wanted. Damage to customer loyalty is a dangerous (but foreseeable) consequence of giving customers cause to shop around rather than simply finding ways of getting them to buy from you. Inevitably, a proportion of them found that they prefer shopping at stores other than Edgars and regular usage of Edgars started to decline.
Reducing the chances of own-brand purchase hurts profitability
Increasing the proportion of international brands meant a reduction in the number of Edgars own-brand items on-shelf. This reduced the probability of an Edgars own-brand item being purchased lead to a partial, but significant loss of control of profit margins.
Loss of control over brand positioning damages the brand immune system
Edgars had no control over the positioning of the third-party brands in the minds of customers and had to live with the consequences of potential poor brand fits between the Edgars own-label brands and the third-party brands. This made the management of brand positioning much more challenging for Edgars, and they largely failed to rise to this challenge. The third-party brand Trojan horse was through the Edgars brand gate, Edgars brand equity was under threat so its market share started to decline.
The critical importance of understanding what it is that makes a brand credible
Brands have the power to differentiate products, make them loved and add value over and above their intrinsic worth. Brands increase the likelihood of getting a higher price, growing turnover and making more profit. Brands define the value proposition to the customer and the power to control the value proposition is sacrosanct and should be regarded as an inalienable brand right – one that you can never give away without losing control of what the brand stands for (its positioning).
Not knowing how well a third-party brand fits in with, or complements own-brands is foolish and dangerous. Each third-party brand must be carefully tested to ensure it adds something positive to the core proposition and does not contradict or confuse it. Third-party brands that do not add something positive to the core proposition should never be included in the brand portfolio.
Testing whether or not third-party brands complement the core brand proposition can only happen when there is a sound understanding of what the core proposition is in the first place – what is it that gives the brand credibility.
In Edgars’ case, the heart of the core proposition was around ‘lots of super fashion, lots of time to pay’. Any third-party brand would have to reinforce at least one of these core elements. In the event, by stocking limited ranges of items from multiple international brands, each one with a different take on fashion style, Edgars became confusing to many customers. What sort of fashion did they stand for? Some of the third-party brands were about edgy fashion, others sporty, high fashion, sexy, chic, Bohemian, casual – you name it. Edgars stocked shallow assortments of many third-party brands across the whole spectrum of the many fashion styles and lost sight of the fact that the Edgars own-brands pretty much stood for “classic fashion”. Consistent brand experience is critically important for brand health, but walking into an Edgars store became a bit like walking into a discordant hangar full of different fashion pop-up stores, each with its own fashion take and each one vying for customer attention. This was the theatre of retail gone mad.
In the midst of all of this, the Edgars own-brands were neglected and began to fade to where they are today – shadows of their former selves.
Edgars own-brand strategy holds the key to future success
It remains to be seen what brand strategy Edgars will deploy to effect a turnaround. One thing is certain, there will be no recovery UNLESS Edgars deploys a carefully thought through brand strategy – one that pulls together all of the components of the mighty Edgars brand into a single, strong, coherent and relevant proposition for the customer. Edgars only chance of survival in the market will be to take back full control of its customer value proposition from third-party brands.
Despite its troubles and all the changes that have taken place in fashion retailing since the dawning of the New South Africa, Edgars is still the third most often-frequented store for economically active South Africans. Edgars remains a well-loved South African brand still does most things right. It has a long and strong heritage and a strong brand culture. It is time now for Edgars to remember its good times and to remind itself of the practices and values that made the brand so loved back then.
The Edgars brand still has an enviably strong foundation on which to rebuild itself to being South Africa’s biggest and best fashion retailer once more.
How well do you understand what your brand stands for? What is it that makes your brand credible? Strategizing and managing brand credibility (brandcred) is the route to understanding and controlling what makes good times happen for any brand.
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