Business Irish

Monday 26 September 2016

Brown Thomas boss on Victoria's Secret and where future lies for BT2

Deal inked on Friday to bring US lingerie brand Victoria's Secret to Dublin next spring, writes Bairbre Power

Published 13/03/2016 | 02:30

Stephen Sealey, managing director of Brown Thomas, outside the flagship store on Grafton Street
Stephen Sealey, managing director of Brown Thomas, outside the flagship store on Grafton Street
The €10.5m refit at Brown Thomas sees BT2 brands such as Maje move over the road

The closure of BT2's flagship store on Grafton Street will not result in job losses, according to Stephen Sealey, managing director of Brown Thomas.

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The BT2 chain, often described as Brown Thomas' "little sister", will close next January and become the Irish home of Victoria's Secret, the American lingerie giant currently engaged in a major European expansion plan.

In an interview with the Sunday Independent following last Friday's assignment of the lease of the BT2 building on Grafton Street, the managing director said the future of the BT2 brand was robust, adding that the two Grafton Street stores - Brown Thomas and BT2 - were "just too close".

Sealey said that BT2's small-format stores in Dundrum Town Centre and Blanchardstown Centre have performed exceedingly well - both recording double-digit sales increases last year.

"Clearly that successful small-format Brown Thomas couldn't work in Grafton Street because we were just too close," he said.

The 20,000 sqft BT2 store on Grafton Street currently has three floors of fashion, plus office space above.

The factors behind the decision to close BT2 on Grafton Street included potential refit costs and a pending rent review. Mr Sealey added that it would not result in job losses, as brands will migrate over to the main Brown Thomas store.

"We will have invested €35m over three years and the current €10.5m project is the relocation of lingerie department - the refit of the second-floor contemporary fashions will actually give us 7,000 sqft more space for fashion," said Sealey.

"You can see the logic of all of this. It gives us the opportunity to bring the best of the brands from BT2 across here. That will give us a much better 'customer journey', because clearly it doesn't really make any sense to have to cross the road to get your jeans."

Sealey says he was looking at the BT2 store and realised that it would need a refit too.

"It makes lot more sense to invest in property that we own, rather than property we rent," he said.

"There were other factors, like a rent review coming up - and to my mind, if a landlord is making more money than you are out of a store, it's not really a great place to be.

"With 7,000 sqft of extra space here in the Brown Thomas store it was a no-brainer."

At noon last Friday he inked the contract for the assignment of the lease of the BT2 building, marking the end of a two-year plan.

Sealey also revealed that one of the key figures in the Victoria's Secret deal was Paul Kelly, chief executive of Selfridges.

"We were slightly at the mercy of the property market, and the key thing is that we had a major input into it being Victoria's Secret," he said.

"It was due to Paul Kelly's relationship and the Selfridges group's relationship with them that we were able to facilitate that deal. It was important to us - because to keep Grafton Street as a destination for shopping, you need a great mix of retailers."

Sealey confirms that there was "a lot of interest in that store".

"What we wanted was to bring a great retailer to the street, where it was going to help everyone on the street and really help maintain Grafton Street as a shopping destination.

"We can get more philosophical about the future of shopping - but to my mind, as online grows, bricks and mortar will survive and will prosper, providing you are a destination.

"If you look at what is happening on Grafton Street - with &OtherStories [a more expensive, sister brand to H&M] going into the old A/Wear building, and now Victoria's Secret going into the BT2 building, plus the result of our investment - it is a really strong story for the street."

As for trading on Grafton Street, Sealey is optimistic.

"It was good last year but it's been a bit unsettled during February - and that would be across the country.

"I think part of that was jitters around the election and uncertainty there, plus we've had some wet and stormy weather. However it has picked up this last week."

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