Australian Geographic re-enters bricks-and-mortar

Image of an Australian Geographic store
An Australian Geographic store before the brand exited bricks-and-mortar stores.

Iconic homegrown brand Australian Geographic is making a return to physical retail with its new partnership with QBD Books.

The two brands will integrate online in June, followed by the nationwide launch of Australian Geographic shop-in-shops in QBD stores by mid-August. These will include books, educational toys and branded products. Branded kiosks are also part of the plan.

“We always thought we’d have a preference to have physical retail again but we were waiting for the right partner. We weren’t in a rush at all,” Australian Geographic’s managing director Jo Runciman told Inside Retail.

“QBD approached us and it’s a good fit with our brand. They seemed to really understand and appreciate the brand.”

Australian-owned QBD Books was founded in the late 1800s and has 77 stores in major shopping centres. 

“We’re primarily a brand and media company and although we had a very successful online retail period in November, retail isn’t our speciality, so we wanted to work with retail specialists and do a good job of it,” Runciman added.

From The Co-Op to QBD

Last year, Australian Geographic ended its three-year licensing agreement with educational book retailer The Co-Op, which entered into voluntary administration in November. Since its shift from physical retail to e-commerce, Australian Geographic has enjoyed successful sales, particularly during the peak of the pandemic in March and April.

According to Runciman, “desperate homeschoolers” were jumping online to find educational toys and resources to entertain their kids, and containers of puzzles were being sold out before they landed.

“We’ve always had a small e-commerce operation just selling our own books and we hadn’t focused on it because we had retail partners,” said Runciman.

“But [this month] it was something like 595 per cent year-on-year, which is a crazy number. Last month was even higher than that. We went from making a few thousand dollars a month in e-commerce to a couple hundreds of thousands of dollars a month.”

“It was completely unprecedented.”

Charity at the heart

Australian Geographic was founded in 1986 by entrepreneur Dick Smith, focusing on the environment, natural history, innovation, adventure, science and travel.

In addition to a bi-monthly magazine and store, the brand includes not-for-profit organisation Australian Geographic Society and the Australian Geographic Society Awards.

While many retailers these days are looking to focus on social responsibility and sustainability, Australian Geographic has always had charity at the heart of its brand, Runciman explained. 

“It’s always been ahead of its time. It simultaneously launched with our charity, and endangered species campaigns have always been a core part of the society, which will be rolled out through the QBD stores,” she said.

“There’s always been an element of giving back. A lot of the retail businesses are now trying to find that ‘give back’ element, but it’s been part of our DNA from day one.”

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