Exclusive Q&A: Francesca’s sees back-to-school as holiday foundation

Dan Berthiaume
Senior Editor, Technology
Dan Berthiaume profile picture
Andrew Clarke
Andrew Clarke, CEO, Francesca’s Holdings Corp.

Francesca’s Holdings Corp. bases success during the holiday season on performance with back-to-school shoppers.

Chain Store Age recently spoke with Andrew Clarke, CEO of Francesca’s, about how the apparel and accessories retailer, is planning for the upcoming holiday season and why back-to-school is such a crucial part of its holiday preparations.

Why does Francesca's expect back-to-school to serve as a predictor of holiday sales?
It’s the start of fall, and early wins translate into great insight for preparing for the holiday season. At Francesca’s, our teams are reactive and agile, and have proven they can chase and scale new ideas in response to strong selling. Last year, we launched new categories and a whole new brand based on data and testing during the back-to-school season.

A strong back-to-school season allows us to move into the holiday season clean from an inventory perspective and remain agile when it comes to buy and receipt flow, so that teams can react in real-time to the early best-sellers.

[Read more: Survey: Retailers prioritize back-to-school over holiday]

What technology solutions are you using to track back-to-school sales?
We use daily reporting to make weekly buying decisions.Our teams leverage social to get early sentiment reads on new ideas.We test new products virtually on existing and future customers using predictive analytics, which has improved our product success rate over the past months. 

How have you responded to fluctuations in back-to-school sales?
Francesca’s is a real-time fashion business, and I am proud of how agile the teams have become. Real-time selling, real-time reacting. We call it ‘Fran-speed’

Have you made any changes in how you manage your supply chain in response to disruptions of the past 18 months?
Our vendor partners continue to be very supportive and effective at managing to navigate the worst of the problems. But this is not a Francesca’s unique issue. The supply chain has been under pressure world-wide, and is likely to continue experiencing delays through the 2021 holiday season. 

We put measures in place to help with this such as increasing the rates we pay for domestic transportation to help secure shipping capacity, shifting our holiday inventory receipts earlier in order to account for any potential slippage in deliveries and, where needed, we are using alternative methods to ship products, such as air freight. 

Our diverse vendor base allows us some flexibility, and we continue to build relationships with vendors who may have operations geographically located in areas with less supply chain backlogs.We are also working with our largest vendor to begin manufacturing much closer to home, as well as adding new partners to open up new countries of origin to close some of the gaps in the current supply chain.

Overall, how do you expect to perform for the 2021 holiday season?
We expect that consumers will be shopping earlier this year because of excitement to be with family and friends, and to get ahead of any supply chain issues there might be. Francesca’s and Franki customers are eager to get out of sweats and back into outfits that show off their own personal style. We expect a surge in party dresses and bold looks.

[Read more: Francesca’s taps industry veteran as CEO]