A few weeks ago the Next Directory landed on my doorstep with a thud. It’s a massive thing, too large to get through the letterbox. My postie abandoned it on the doorstep without even bothering to ring the bell, so glad must he have been to offload it. I had not appreciated that by ordering something online from Next I had also signed up to receive the Directory.
I confess that I am not a huge fan of Next. I am very keen on their Knitted Waistcoats but apart from those I don’t think I have anything else from Next in my wardrobe, and have no particular hankering to change that.
In any case, if I had been thinking about exploring other items from Next the arrival of their Directory would not have helped. Put bluntly, the Next Directory is not especially man friendly. It arrived in a cardboard box accompanied by an enveloped, both adorned with pink flowers. I kid you not. The Directory has on its front cover and opening pages pics of female models, which whilst not unattractive, do not suggest that this is a publication aimed at men as well as women. Somewhere near the back of this thick volume is the menswear section.
Now, I am conscious that my favourite outfitters like T M Lewin and Charles Tyrwhitt do the same thing in reverse. Their catalogues show menswear front and centre and the womenswear is somewhere in the back. So I imagine that their female customers might feel similarly marginalised.
However, in their defence, these are gentlemen’s outfitters, first and foremost, which have more recently begun to offer a somewhat limited womenswear range. If Next were positioned as a womenswear shop which has begun to offer a limited menswear range, I think I might have understood; but this is not the case. So Next need to get their branding and advertising together to say to men like me that they are a menswear shop just as much as they are a womenswear shop. Otherwise we’ll go off somewhere more manly.
M&S have a similar, but far less acute, problem. Their advertising is understandably aimed primarily at their largest client base, women, and we men can sometimes feel like an afterthought. However, there have been some steps taken to address this. M&S menswear has its own sub-label, M&S Man. This in turn includes a range called Savile Row Inspired, obviously intended to draw parallels with the quality of Savile Row tailoring. However, I suggest that it is also intended to draw parallels with the fact that the clientele of Savile Row is overwhelmingly masculine. Nevertheless, M&S also can get it wrong for male clients.
I received, some time ago, a personal invitation to an ‘excusive M&S cardholder style event’ at the Gateshead MetroCentre store. I was planning to be at the store in the following week anyway, so popped into this event when I was next in. There was wine and nibbles and a ‘style presentation’ identifying new season trends and promoting the M&S new season collection items which were ‘on trend.’ It was a pretty slick presentation which lasted about 20 mins.
The only catch was that it was aimed entirely at women. There was no mention at all of the (very decent in my view) M&S Man range. Moreover, it was not clear to me why I was sent an invitation to an event clearly aimed at women. There were a few other men present, so I was not the only one. But they had clearly either been dragged there by their womenfolk, or had received the invitation and had taken their womenfolk to this event.
In my case, because I was not there primarily for the event, but had simply popped into it because I was going to the store to pick up an item, I was on my own, and felt a fish out of water in what turned out to be a womenswear presentation. That particular marketing ploy had a negative rather than positive effect on me, and undermined slightly the generally positive view of M&S that I have.
I don’t know if I am alone here, but it seems to me that clothing retailers quite rightly take square aim at their biggest client base, women. I don’t expect this to change. However in an increasingly competitive marketplace we men don’t expect to be second-class citizens or an afterthought. Rather, what is needed is a better attempt to communicate to male customers that retailers are genuinely interested in our business.
Though I am a little older than the primary demographic at which they are aiming (i.e. over 23!) I suggest that Topshop/Topman is a good example of how it is possible to variegate a marketing approach so that menswear does not feel an afterthought to womenswear. Until large clothing retailers get this, they can expect to continue to lose ground to smaller dedicated gentlemen’s outfitters like T M Lewin, Hawes & Curtis or Charles Tyrwhitt.