I am biased when it comes to Laura Ashley. Largely because the
beleaguered company was a client of mine until three years ago before I
joined Attenborough Associates.
During that time, I grew to respect its rich heritage and unswerving
belief in its own global appeal. It was easy to become immersed in a
company culture tinged with arrogance. To say, however, that the writing
was on the wall, would be both naive and untrue. Certainly the brand
needed to modernise and it was imperative that a decision was made on
the direction of its products (most notably fashion, not interiors).
Customers were confused, sales fell, Laura Ashley reacted - badly. But
with the initial reaction so wrong, is it realistic to expect the latest
rebirth to be successful?
Judging by the tone of the past year’s press coverage, the obvious
answer is no. The downward spiral of plunging sales, troubled overseas
investments and disastrous attempts at rebranding has seemed endless.
But Laura Ashley is still with us, even if it is on borrowed time. The
brand is still fighting, and the rebirth that we are now witnessing
could be the one that succeeds.
The task of repositioning is a difficult one and has many crucial
factors, but the four that seem most relevant for Laura Ashley are
honesty, communication, audience and product. Brand and design director
Kimball Stoddard is covering the first two points nicely. His honesty
about past mistakes is refreshing, and vital. It’s not a subject which
many companies are happy to discuss in public, but it’s a step towards
reaching his customers. The third point, identifying the audience, also
seems like an obvious one from the outside, but is all too easily
blurred from within a brand. At least the company now seems very clearly
who it is aiming at. And finally the product, which only the passing
seasons can verify. This is assuming, of course, that the brand has
managed in financial terms, to buy itself enough time.
If the balance is right, there’s every chance of this first stage
working for Laura Ashley. Ultimately, the proof of success will be in
the hands of investors and customers. I would imagine the former will
take some time convincing, while the latter, I suspect, will more easily
They have been raised on the Laura Ashley tradition, and it’s a hard one