George Breaks Free: Wal-Mart’s Asda Line Gets Own U.K. Stores

Wal-Mart has ambitious plans for its George apparel brand, rolling out independent stores and taking the line into wholesaling.

To court trend-minded High Street customers, George stores will stock the more forward, “fast-fashion” parts of the label’s range, the company source said. Prices will be consistent with Asda, as will methods of merchandise display, including brushed-chrome fixtures and items clustered as mix-and-match outfits rather than piles of basics.

Current plans do not include designing any exclusive pieces for the new stores, the Asda spokeswoman said.

Therese Byrne, editor and publisher of Retail Maxim, called the move a “penetration strategy” in line with Wal-Mart’s global goal of capturing urban customers. “Wal-Mart is going to eventually do a Mini-Me version of itself, selling only apparel and food,” Byrne predicted. “Convenience is the last mile everybody wants.”

Isolating apparel in its own concept gives Wal-Mart “better insight and more feedback into how the customer shops the category,” said Deborah Weinswig, analyst at Salmon Smith Barney.

George isn’t the first concept Asda has spun off and scaled down. It also operates a 17,500-square-foot, food-only store in Walthamstow, a London suburb. Asda’s average-size footprint is 50,000 square feet, although it operates some as large as 100,000 square feet.

About 60 percent of Asda’s floor space is devoted to food, with the remainder, general merchandise. George accounts for only about 15 percent of Asda’s square footage per store.

George is growing at a rapid clip globally, thanks to Wal-Mart’s reach. The brand is sold in Germany, South Korea, Canada and the U.S. Wal-Mart has been fairly aggressive with its American expansion of George — less than a year after testing men’s wear in 2001, the company expanded to footwear and women’s apparel and placed the label in 2,780 U.S. stores. Unlike in the U.K., though, George always will represent only a portion of Wal-Mart’s apparel offerings in the U.S., company officials have stressed.

Weinswig said taking George to Seiyu in Japan “once again provides an opportunity for them to learn. Japan, in particular, tends to be a demanding retail market.”

Indeed, John Menzer, president and chief executive officer of Wal-Mart’s international operations, made the company’s approval of George clear last week when he wore one of the label’s suits onstage at the company’s annual meeting in Bentonville, Ark., and touted it as a “best practice” for apparel.
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