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“General Pants has a terrific heritage in the market, and I think people can see the transformation that we’ve been through. They can see the upswing we’re having as we accelerate our growth initiatives. There’s a lot of appeal and a lot of interest in the business,” Laing said.
The retailer’s growth over the last year and a half has been driven by its decision to start selling its portfolio of 11 own brands on third-party online marketplaces, such as The Iconic, Ebay and The Market, an online marketplace in New Zealand.
General Pants’ own brands include denim brands Insight and Neon Hart and in-demand favourites Arvust and Alice In The Eve, which it sells alongside the likes of Lee, Levi’s, Wrangler, Stussy and Patagonia.
“Within our own business, [our own] brands are phenomenally successful, and we’ve been talking for some time about how we get them in front of more customers outside of the four walls of General Pants,” Laing said.
Just this week, General Pants launched its entire portfolio of own brands on Surfstitch, an online marketplace operated by ACTA Capital’s Alquemie Group that caters to surfwear brands and coastal lifestyle labels, and it plans to launch on The Dom, a new off-price shopping site started by Justin Seskin, and Westfield’s online marketplace in the near future.
Strong brand portfolio
So far, Laing said the majority of marketplace sales have been to new customers, so the retailer isn’t cannibalising sales it otherwise would have made through its own website or store network.
“We see it as truly an incremental channel for growth,” he said, adding that it has had a “material” impact on the business’ annual revenue.
The key to the retailer’s success on marketplaces, according to Laing, is the strength of its own brands. Unlike many private-label brands that are developed to fill a gap or as a margin play, General Pants’ own brands are “genuine” brands with a clear understanding of the customer.
“Not only do they stack up well against other contemporary brands, but in some cases, we’re seeing some phenomenal results, which gives us a lot of confidence after a number of years of building these brands,” he said.
“We believe they have the opportunity to be not only strong brands here in Australia and New Zealand, but beyond that as well. It’s really the strategic direction we’re taking the business in.”
At the same time, Laing is looking to grow General Pants’ bricks-and-mortar business to between 80 and 100 locations across Australia and New Zealand. It currently has around 60 stores, but is set to open five new stores in Australia this month and refurbish another four.
“Nine of our stores will be brand new boxes at the end of this month, and that’s a pretty significant number of new stores in our footprint for a business of our size,” Laing said.
Eighty per cent of General Pants’ sales are made offline.
Clear understanding of the customer
After an end-to-end transformation of the business over the last three years, Laing said General Pants has a better understanding of who its customer is — millennials and gen Z — and what motivates them.
“Sustainability is important to them, mental health is important, and we very much focus our energy and forward strategies around those,” he said.
The retailer launched a takeback scheme in 2019 called Denim Amnesty, which allows customers to drop off their old jeans in-store in exchange for a $20 voucher. Based on the condition of the jeans, General Pants works with partners to either donate them to charity, repurpose them into new items like tote bags, or recycle them into fibres that can be used for carpet underlay and other products.
It has also conducted a trial program with BlockTexx, a textile recycling business based in Australia, and worked with the Circular Centre in Sydney on a design competition to keep old clothes out of landfill. It is cutting out waste in other ways, too.
“We’ve eliminated plastic across our entire store network. We don’t have any plastic bags in Australia and New Zealand, and we’re in the process right now of phasing out our online satchels to be fully sustainable, organic satchels,” Laing said.
Looking ahead, the plan for General Pants is clear, whether or not the current talks eventuate in a sale.
“It is about growing our store footprint, it is about growing our marketplace channels, and it is about continuing to leverage the brand portfolio that we’ve got,” he said. “That doesn’t change regardless of the ownership structure.”