We All Love a Bargain…

Still somewhat sneered at by the fashion illuminati, one can’t argue with the popularity of TK Maxx. It allows brands to sell to a secondary market and offers useful indicators of brands health

Article by Rupert Watkins

I was first introduced to TK Maxx by an old flatmate who advised me to hunt there for some bedding, “everyone buys there – even if they do go to the outlet in the next postcode so they don’t get spotted!!” she joked. For years it has been the butt of disparaging jokes about the type of shopper it attracts but whether the shopping snobs like it or not, TK Maxx says far more about the dynamics of brand retail and attitudes to sustainability today than its self-professed rarefied neighbours.

Offering value for money, choice, the slight edge of disappointment if you go back to find someone else has swiped that last item and up to the minute trends TK Maxx – whether more refined customers hold their nose or not – offers the average customer a way of gaining an aspirational lifestyle.

The stores allow brands to access the secondary market whilst also being able to offload end of product lines and general excess production. TK Maxx is certainly cheap, but many of the large labels stocked will have covered both their costs and profits selling the bulk of any given item’s production run through their own stores, at full RRP, to their primary market. Whilst one can argue as to whether any brand can be defined as “luxury” when with a bit of searching and waiting you’ll find examples in TK Maxx’s across the land, but many supposedly high end labels – Ralph Lauren is a notable example – have long made their money by offsetting their expensive top label shops in Mayfair and Manhattan against own brand outlet stores selling their basic ranges in high bulk.

There are clearly many labels that would shrivel at the thought of appearing in TK Maxx (Burberry and it’s notorious burning of £27 million worth of goods comes to mind – though I have seen the brand on very rare occasions in TK shops), what being in the chain of stores offers brands is a level of secondary market awareness. It can be very easy to see the chain as representing the very worst of unsustainable and ecologically damaging mass fashion but quite simply it allows as much of any production run to at least find a home. If there is criticism to be directed, it is more in the direction of many of the labels and the quality of their clothing; items I have brought last under a year – irritating when you pay TK Maxx prices – but I would be near incandescent had I had to fork out full boutique price.

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Where TK Maxx is of great interest to the lifestyle writer is in through keeping a careful eye on the brands that float through the various shops. Relaunches and changes of business direction can all be seen in sudden surges of certain brands on the TK shelves. Thomas Pink’s recent brand relaunch was clear a month before its public announcement as central London’s TK Maxx’s stores started groaning with Pink shirts. More generally certain indications of brand health can be discerned – in recent visits over the past eight months I have noticed more items by illustrious British brands such as Private White VC, Turnbull & Asser and Chester Barrie than ever before. This may just of course be cyclical, but it could point to the health surrounding a brand’s primary outlets and market.

The biggest issue to the canny consumer is finding the actual item they like, TK Maxx carries the offshoots and leftovers but for those seeking a slice of the aspirational life on a limited budget, this chain probably offers better value than waiting for seasonal sales. riddle_stop 2

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