“Look what happens when great brands do nothing as the world changes around them.”
One of my fundamental building blocks of a great business is to “stay different”. This implies that you are different in some way in the first place and Mothercare and the Early Learning Centre (ELC) brand that it owns were, once. The problem is that if you have a valuable franchise you have to work to keep it and that means adopting as the world changes around you. Sadly, both Mothercare and Early Learning Centres operate in much the same way as they did 20 years ago and a lot has changed in the retail environment in that time.
Mothercare have just announced a suspension of its dividend to finance, along with increased bank debt, further restructuring particularly the closure of 111 of its stores over the next three years. It then intends to focus on the remaining 200 stores. Early Learning Centres make up 75 of the stores that are due to close.
When my children were young, some twenty years ago now, I would often buy them toys from ELC. These days similar aged children are more likely to want something electronic, or an “app” for their iPhones. ELC are selling toys when it should be selling “early learning”, if its positioning is to be taken literally. These days that means selling a much wider range of products than it did then. Sadly, ELC today “is the place for toys, games and puzzles”. It’s a traditional toy shop trying to hang on in a bright new electronic world.
Mothercare has also of course been hit by the growth of supermarkets’ category footprint and the internet like every other retailer out there. It has also had some much better targeted rivals appear, like JoJo Maman Bebe, that have gone for the francophile folk with most cash.
The steady decline of Mothercare and ELC is a classic example of what happens to businesses that don’t adapt to the times, and frankly that is most of them. It is just fading away in front of our eyes. Why does this happen? Well, there are a few basic reasons: poor understanding of marketing strategy; inability to respond coherently to change; and a lack of confidence and leadership to make the necessary changes. It is also pretty hard to do so, understandably perhaps, many don’t want to take the risk.
If you want to evolve but don’t know where your sustainable difference comes from and what you are going to do next you probably need some help or you will face the inevitable consequences, just like ELC.