Blacks and Millets – is the great outdoors big enough for two?

bootsI note from an article in Design Week, that Blacks Leisure, the parent company of Blacks and Millets, is looking to rebrand the two subsidiaries. The group was recently rescued from administration by JD Sports.

It always gives me a slightly queasy feeling when businesses in trouble see re-branding as part of some solution. Far too often it means tinkering with the image and brand communications. My instinct is that for the component parts of this group, that will be far from sufficient unless there is some radical change in the brand offers. The point is that there was nothing really wrong with the two brands, just that their offers were too similar to overcome the retail realities.

Let me declare an interest. I am a lover of the outdoors and regularly shopped at both outlets. My perception was that 80% of their offer was pretty much identical. I would also guess that 80% of their audience was the same. That need not be a problem if the differentiated 20% in each case was where the real revenue was generated, but I would guess this was not the case.

I lived in a modest county town where we had a Blacks store in prime retail real-estate, and also a Millets outlet in almost as prime a location, not 400 yards away. Both were substantial double-fronted shops on two floors. Even the most naive shopper could soon see that both stores were related as the core of the stock was duplicated. Unfortunately the target audience was not duplicated. This was not a brand issue at heart but one of retail dynamics and you did not need to be retail analyst to sense that something was amiss.

The two brands came from rather different routes. Blacks made their name in tent-making (I still have a Blacks Good Companion from the 1970’s). Millets built on the post war outdoor boom with many ‘ramblers’ purchasing army surplus equipment before specialised kit was within the grasp of the general public. But the two brands converged, and it is difficult to develop differentiated personalities when the majority of the brand offer is so similar.

I would love to think that both brands could carve distinct and profitable niches. They have amazing pedigrees and the names represent iconic personalities in the UK outdoors market, but whoever takes on the challenge will not succeed with some superficial brand communications tweaks. I fear some radical and painful brand reassessment and restructure will be fundamental.


One comment

  1. Reblogged this on More than just a logo. and commented:
    Some very interesting thoughts on the news of the planned re-brands of Millets and Blacks. It sounds quite plausible in the Design Week article and it will need to be seen if a new strategy and ‘lick of paint’ will overcome the internal cultural and external high street behaviour issues that caused the brands to be in this situation in the first place.
    Perhaps they will start the process on the ‘inside’ and it is not just a marketing fix, but the beginning of a new era for both brands.

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