LK Bennett CEO Topp to quit, ex-East boss joins in top job
LK Bennett surprised the retail sector when it named Darren Topp, the former boss of the failed BHS chain, as its chief executive, but now it seems that Topp is leaving. And his replacement? Erica Vilkauls, who until recently ran the failed East womenswear chain.
The company’s appointment of two top executives from chains that have gone under is an admission that the retail sector is tough out there and even the most respected retail chiefs can face problems when circumstances conspire against them.
The company said it was “the right time for [Topp] to move on to new challenges that he had in mind” but also hailed the profitability improvement the firm has sen under his leadership. He will leave next month after a tenure of just over 18 months. He joined the company in September 2016 following the BHS collapse in the summer of that year.
Meanwhile Vilkauls had been CEO at East for only three months before the company went under for the second time in a three-year period. She had previously been COO at Thomas Pink and earlier in her career had worked at John Lewis and LK Bennett itself.
There has been plenty of change at LK Bennett, which operates firmly in the middle market of the UK footwear and clothing sector, in recent periods. Its founder last autumn bought back into he business. She had always retained a stake and a board seat but the firm had seen patchy results in recent years.
In its latest financial year, losses had widened to £4.5m from £1.1m and turnover fell 1% to £92.3m, although comparable sales rose 1% and webstore sales were up almost 20%.
When she bought back in, the company said it was planning fast expansion. It’s unclear whether this is still the aim given the challenging retail environment.
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