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Lakeland – Everything changes, everything stays the same

In what BHETA described as “another record turnout” members flocked to the Regency Hotel in Shirley in the West Midlands for the organisation’s September 26th forum to hear Matthew Canwell, Director of Buying at Lakeland update the BHETA membership on Lakeland’s guiding principles and plans for the future. He also provided the clearest possible direction to suppliers and would-be suppliers on how to attract the positive attention of the buying team.

Matthew’s presentation was entitled ‘Everything changes; everything stays the same’, a sentiment which perfectly encapsulated his vision of the unchanged family values at the heart of the Lake District company which flourish even while the business develops as a thoroughly contemporary retailer. “Service is the cornerstone,” said Matthew; “It’s just that the execution always changes.”

Part of the cornerstone is the simple ‘if you are not satisfied you get your money back’ guarantee which sits at the heart of the relationship with consumers that has earned Lakeland second place (to Lush) in the Which? Best Brands in Housewares Retail list. The business, long associated with catalogue retail and then the development of bricks and mortar shops is now most definitely omni-channel. In terms of distance selling, the traditional printed catalogue which can be picked up in store as well as being mailed drives considerable business, but most of those transactions now occur online. Lakeland now has a very sophisticated and proactive marketing machine making the most of online inspirational techniques, lifestyle photography, advice and recipe content – all freely accessible – as well as copious amounts of advice and interaction with consumers via social media. There is bigger media spend than ever, a radical licensing policy (the latest being Dr Who on an exclusive basis and aimed at attracting the younger audience and their parents!), TV chef sponsorships, apps and a Newstand magazine on iPad. More than one third of web-based shopping at Lakeland is now via tablet.

Having said all that, Lakeland sticks by its objective of expansion, opening five new stores this year. The business has also developed in the international market with nine successful stores in Asia. Matthew pointed out that suppliers unable to fulfil the Asian side of the company’s interests were really missing out on a considerable opportunity. “Suppliers,” as Matthew put it, “must be able to supply!”

Moreover, supplying Lakeland should really be a two-pronged branded and own brand business. Clearly the Lakeland brand is of enormous importance being unique and price-protected, but the company also likes to sell branded goods and it is here that innovation and the willingness to offer Lakeland exclusivity or at least initial exclusives and tightly managed distribution thereafter is the key to success. But as Matthew pointed out the Lakeland brand represents over half the business’ turnover and suppliers who choose not to provide branded deals and own label together are again missing out on considerable potential turnover.

So what does Lakeland want to see in terms of product development? The key categories are ‘making and baking’ and home organisation including cleaning. It is also influenced by a long-standing relationship with trend prediction company Scarlet Opus and equally by the popular issues of the day. “Trust and provenance are key,” Matthew explains, “thanks to the twin public scandals of horsemeat and MPs expenses, the fallout from which both drove up sales in products that enable ‘homemade not ready made’ including winemaking, cheesemaking and sausage and burger preparation.”

Satisfy those criteria and keep in mind the channel profile, the approach to branding and the interests in export and then it is “just a matter of putting a great product in front of us!” according to Matthew. He was not being facetious. “The point is that it is the supplier who needs to innovate and engage the imagination of the buyer. Suppliers who take a ‘we can do anything; just tell us what you want’ approach are not likely to be successful at Lakeland.”

It is a clear message and Matthew’s whole presentation was clear, rational, and logical – and inspirational for any supplier who would like to take up the challenge.

A copy of Matthew’s presentation is available to members. Please contact the Member Services Team.

October 2013

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