>Jason Hargreaves made a trip to Oxford Street earlier this year with his four-year-old daughter in tow.
The managing director of Matalan, the out-of-town value fashion and homeware chain founded by his father, John Hargreaves, 30 years ago, came to view its first ever central London store at the east end of on Oxford Street ahead of its launch next month.
“I asked my daughter what she thought of Dad’s new store but she wasn’t too impressed. Maybe when she is older,” he laughs.
Retail has always been a family affair for media-shy Hargreaves, who started learning the ropes as a child before joining Matalan when it was founded by his father in 1985, at the age of 17.
He took over as chief executive in 2013 when Darren Blackhurst left, bringing the 217-store empire back into family control for the first time since his father stepped down as chief executive in 1996.
He is not the only one in the family with the flair for retail. His brother Jamie also works within the business while his sister Maxine bought womenswear brand Fenn Wright Manson out of administration in 2012 – a brand now also stocked in Matalan.
Now, 30 years since it was founded, Matalan is using a major new advertising campaign to show the range of different households in the UK today and to position itself as the retailer of choice for the modern family.
“We started out as a family-focused retailer and we thought that with our Made for Modern Families campaign that we could reflect how families have changed since 30 years ago but how our values have stayed the same,” Hargreaves told City A.M. at the company’s autumn/winter preview yesterday in London’s west end.
With the majority of its 217 stores located in out-of-town retail parks across the UK, the average Matalan shopper is around 35-45 years old – predominantly women or mothers shopping for the family.
Hargreaves said its strength lies in offering “Marks and Spencer quality at half the price”.
But like its retail peers, the group has battled since the recession with weak household spending as well as increasing competition from the supermarkets and discounters including Primark, B&M and TK Maxx.
Hargreaves conceded that the current retail environment was the toughest that he could remember. However the 47-year-old said efforts taken to simplify its supply chain, grow online and improve the range and quality of its products were bearing fruit.
Matalan’s full-year results, due to be released next week, are expected to show a five per cent rise in underlying earnings, despite a decline of 4.3 per cent over the third quarter.
Unlike its discount rival Primark, which has ruled out selling clothes online as unprofitable, Matalan said orders through its website have soared in recent years, driven by demand for click and collect and bringing with it younger fashionable shoppers.
“It is a more expensive route to market but we have managed to make it profitable,” Hargeaves said, adding that it was now its “biggest store” with over 3m customers.
Once a public company until taken private again in 2006, Hargreaves did not rule out the prospect of a float in the future. For now he said it has the opening of its Oxford Street store to focus on, alongside Matalan’s birthday – though 30 years old he insists it is still as relevant with shoppers today.