Laura Ashley: What Went Wrong.

“The problem is not an ability to take action but an inability to take appropriate action” – Harvard Business Review

Laura Ashley has officially called it a day in Australia after announcing that it will be closing all stores this month. Founded in England in 1953 by Laura and Bernard Ashley, the first Australian store opened in 1971. At its peak, the brand had more than 45 stores Down Under and was revered for its clothing and homewares inspired by the British countryside.

So, what went wrong? We’ve drawn out some of key reasons why we think this Australian venture has finally come to an end.

 

1. Brand resonance: Laura Ashley struggled to evolve with its Australian audience. While the brand was effective at embodying the founder’s romantic vision of the English lady and household, unfortunately this message didn’t stick with the modern Australian working woman who want more practical, professional attire. Although there were still women who enjoyed the style that the brand created, there wasn’t enough demand to sustain it. The traditional British values associated with the brand didn’t hold up for the long haul in Australia, and consequently the brand began to fade into the background, unable to emerge as a leader of current fashion and homeware trends. While we’re not suggesting that there is no room in the market whatsoever for a store like Laura Ashley, perhaps the problem was that the hype around its niche factor diminished overtime as similar stores opened.

2. Differentiation: While it could be argued that Laura Ashley always knew its style and what made it unique (all things feminine and British countryside), this wasn’t enough to persevere through the increasing number of physical and online retailers entering the clothing and homewares department. While a defining style is critical, unfortunately retailers need to have more than a unique style/aesthetic to stay alive. We’re talking about service and customer experience differentiation. Laura Ashley put most of their eggs into one basket, and as a result it became difficult for customers to see what made the store different and better than the rest. When the store first opened in Australia, it was a new and exciting concept for women, however as this excitement faded overtime they were unable to communicate new initiatives or reasons as to why shopping at Laura Ashley was a must for customers. Given the steep competition within the retail industry, retailers who fail to stand at the front fall into the middle ‘average’ category where they are at a high risk of falling behind, and unfortunately this occurred in the end for Laura Ashley.

 

3. Customer Knowledge: This point ties in very closely with brand resonance because what this lack of brand resonance suggests is that the company failed to truly know and understand their customer. While the brand may know who their ideal customer is after looking at their core customer in other countries where the brand is still doing well, this is not a guarantee for success everywhere. The brand lacked the ability to make their stores not only country specific, but also location specific. We are increasingly seeing many retailers today downsizing certain stores or even introducing store-specific brands in certain stores based on what customers engage with in particular suburb locations. Laura Ashley had a predominantly one-size-fits-all model that in the long run proved to be too rigid and somewhat outdated for today’s Australian customer. This suggests that the company had difficulty with collecting and/or analysing current customer data in Australia.  

While we’ve only discussed a small handful of reasons, it’s clear to see that Laura Ashley was unable to secure itself as an on-demand, unique retail store in Australia. The brand was unable to sustain its relevance in the Australian market among numerous other fierce competitors, and in the end, it was unable to withstand the ever-changing environment.