Already sold in David Jones stores nationwide, The Academy Brand recently opened its fifth standalone store, in Westfield Chatswood in Sydney. The Chatswood opening follows the recent launch of another store at Westfield Miranda in September, and joins the brand’s existing high street stores in Newtown, Bondi and Paddington.
The Academy Brand has grown from a $100,000 start-up to an established apparel business with a turnover in excess of $10 million in eight short years.
“Brands have always been my passion,” Pitt told Inside Retail Weekly last week. “To me, a label is in the now. It’s thinking about today, not tomorrow. But a brand is something that creates a legacy and has longevity. I want the 18-year-old kids walking into our stores today to still be walking into our stores when they are 40-years-old.”
Pitt started his career in advertising, where he spent 10 years building brands. A big part of his role then was to look at the market and identify gaps for his clients.
During that journey, Pitt, who had always had a keen eye for fashion, saw a big gap for a men’s clothing brand that delivered a good quality, affordable product that didn’t compromise on the brand experience.
“At the time, I found that a lot of retailers were really about fast, low priced fashion,” he recalled. “They were doing well, but it was all a bit soulless. There was no brand connection.
“I saw a huge gap in the market for men to be able to go into a store that took the hassle out of shopping, get an affordable wardrobe, but still have something to attach themselves to.”
Pitt started The Academy Brand in 2007 in trendy Bondi as a wholesale business with a very clear marketing plan of what he wanted to achieve. And he hasn’t looked back since.
“I had a risky strategy,” he admits. “I wanted to sell to the right people from the very start, so I targeted only a handful of stores.”
With top notch catalogues and branding, Pitt managed to get the owner of fashion retailer, Tuchuzy, in Bondi to take his range. This was a great move because buyers from New Zealand and the major Australian chains often popped into Tuchuzy to see what was new.
Pitt said this dramatically increased his exposure to, “all sorts of buyers”. Before he knew it, his goods were appearing in more and more David Jones stores as well as many other outlets. That gave him the confidence to open his own store in Bondi, and then another in Newtown.
“Having your own retail store is the best market research you can do,” he said opined. You interact with customers every day. You have to know and understand the person that you are targeting, and if you do, everything goes from there.”
The forgotten man
Pitt knew right at the start that his target customer was, “the forgotten man”.
“He’s everywhere, and it’s becoming more apparent,” Pitt explained. “He loves looking good, but he doesn’t want to try too hard. He has different priorities in life. He is modest and understated. He’s not just looking for the bargain. He’s also engaged with our brand.”
That target market has only gotten wider as the company has evolved. It’s not just 18 to 25-year-olds, as it once was. Now, The Academy Brand’s demographic extends up to 60-year-olds.
“That is because we are accessible,” Pitt suggested. “We are not talking to a specific niche. I want anyone to walk into any of our stores and feel instantly comfortable. We are a no fuss brand that can deliver on quality and price. And we want customers to come on this growth journey with us. It’s not just about revolving stock and changing trends. It’s the whole package.
“I’d like to think that we perhaps listen to the customer a bit more than others. Our customer service is very personalised and we are happy to take the time to educate people about the brand.”
Pitt believed The Academy Brand has a pretty unique and welcoming brand aesthetic in its stores.
“The fitout and feel is very welcoming to all ages. When you walk past any store or take a quick glance at its window, somehow you know within two seconds whether you want to walk in and whether you believe you will find something in that store.
“I take this as a real human truth, and we have worked on that. We like our stores to be inviting from the first glance. Once you are in the store, we want you to just know you are going to find something here.”
So, how does The Academy Brand do this?
“It’s a combination of everything – the name on the door, our window space … we work very hard on our visual merchandising. We have a dedicated team. We try and make our windows conceptual and very interesting. We like our stores to feel very warm – we use a lot of wood in the store. Our stores are interesting, but not minimalistic. They are very welcoming and inviting.”
Looking ahead, Pitt said he has an ambitious retail growth strategy for the brand.
“But we control our destiny,” he deadpanned. “This brand can easily facilitate 50-plus stores in the future, but there is no rush.”
The present focus remains on Sydney, but Pitt added that he also has his eyes on Melbourne.
“Melbourne is a very big wholesale market for us and we have definite plans to move into Melbourne in the back half of next year via a combination of high street stores and big shopping centres, depending on the opportunity.”
Next year, he will launch the Junior Academy Brand and suggested there might be a few other offshoot Academies down the track as well, including sportswear and sleepwear. Not bad for possibly one of the very few brands launched at the beginning of what was to become the global financial crisis!
Want more Inside Retail? Subscribe to Inside Retail Weekly now and get our premium print publication delivered to your door every week.