Joe Fresh Will Run the General Merchandise Show at Loblaw’s

In a fascinating move Private Brand trailblazers Loblaw’s has appointed the creator of their Joe Fresh Private Brand design guru Joe Mimran to oversee home furnishings, electronics, sporting goods, books, toys and hardware. This is an amazing turn of events for the both Mimran and Loblaw’s and is certainly the first time a prominent designer will lead varied categories from electronics to sporting goods for the Canadian retailer. This article from the Globe and Mail details the announcement and the history of Joe Mimran at Loblaw’s.

Loblaw’s Joe Fresh creator to revitalize merchandise

Joe Mimran managed to do what many thought wasn’t possible: He made grocery giant Loblaw Cos. Ltd. a destination for cheap-chic fashion.

Now Loblaw executives are betting that Mr. Mimran can do for its ailing non-food businesses what he did in its fashion aisles. The design guru, who co-founded the Club Monaco clothier before its was sold to fashion powerhouse Ralph Lauren, developed the Joe Fresh line for the grocer almost four years ago. Today, it is one of Canada’s top apparel brands.

He now has been handed the added responsibility for Loblaw’s other general-merchandise sections, including home furnishings, electronics, sporting goods, books, toys and hardware.

“It is a vote of confidence in him,” said Brian Yarbrough, an analyst at Edward Jones in St. Louis, Mo. “He can definitely help drive the business in some of these other categories. But it would be unrealistic to expect the other categories to be nearly as successful as what we’ve seen out of Joe Fresh.”

Over the past three years, Loblaw has been racing to turn around its supermarket business, squeezed partly by the botched expansion into general merchandise. But the fashion business has been an unlikely silver lining for Loblaw’s controlling Weston family, who recruited Mr. Mimran for his style prowess.

Apparel is appealing because its profit margins can be more than double those of food. But just as food goes stale, fashion also has best-before dates and can cause financial pain if the styles fall flat and have to be cleared at a discount. General merchandise can generate better margins than groceries, although Loblaw needs to draw customers with enticing products.

Now Allan Leighton, president of Loblaw and a long-time adviser to the Westons, has hand-picked Mr. Mimran to help solve the retailer’s non-food problems. Mr. Leighton said yesterday that Mr. Mimran has lit a fire under the Joe Fresh fashion business and can perform similar magic in the other departments.

“He’s got that business cooking on gas,” Mr. Leighton said. “You couldn’t have a better guy than Joe running it because he knows what he’s doing. ” Mr. Mimran has a knack for picking cheap and cheerful styles ranging from $80 wool pea coats to $30 skinny jeans. He sources them overseas at low cost, and refreshes the offerings regularly.

He can borrow from having expanded into home furnishings at Club Monaco, and drawing up plans for the now defunct – but at the time edgy – Caban home decor chain.

Still, Mr. Mimran has hit snags with Joe Fresh that he’ll want to avoid – most of which were tied to Loblaw’s weak merchandising systems, which at times left shelves empty because they were incapable of tracking demand and replenishing stores on time.

The systems have improved, but Mr. Leighton said they still have a long way to go. This year, the company is investing heavily in its supply chain and information technology, although the upgrade will pinch operating profit by about $185-million, executive chairman Galen G. Weston warned yesterday, adding that Loblaw overall faces two of its toughest years ahead.

Loblaw has scaled back its ambitions in some non-food departments and shifted space to food, apparel and health and beauty items. Joe Fresh by last year had become the second-biggest clothing brand in this country by unit sales.

“We really do believe that could be a billion dollar business,” Mr. Leighton said.

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Here is the Fall 2009 Commercial, pretty cool.

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Christopher Durham
Christopher Durham is the president of My Private Brand and the co-founder of The Vertex Awards. He is a strategist, author, consultant and retailer who built brands at Delhaize-owned Food Lion, and lead strategy and brand development for Lowe’s Home Improvement. He has consulted with retailers around the world on their private brand portfolios including: Family Dollar, Petco, Staples, Office Depot, Best Buy, Metro (Canada), TLW (Taiwan) and Hola (Taiwan). Durham has published five definitive books on private brands, including his first book, Fifty2: The My Private Brand Project. In 2017, he will debut his newest book, Vanguard: Vintage Originals, a visual tour of innovation and disruption in private brand going back to the mid-1800’s. Dynamic in his presentation while down to earth and frank in his opinions, he has presented at numerous conferences, including FUSE, The Dieline Conference, Packaging that Sells, Omnishopper and PLMA’a annual trade show in Chicago. Durham lives in Charlotte, NC with his wife, Laraine, and two daughters, Olivia and Sarah.