It’s a time of consolidation for Australia’s clothing, footwear and accessories sector, as major retail brands curtail their store expansion strategies to re-emphasise the role of e-commerce in their businesses.
But while large department stores are attempting to right-size their businesses, Bras N Things general manager of retail operations Julie Hastings is backing good ol’ fashioned customer service in a push to expand the specialist retailer’s physical presence in Australia and abroad.
The lingerie business has just opened a new flagship store in Westfield Parramatta, returning to the high growth location several years after closing its initial store in the centre, now with a new look and a better location.
The store has been designed to showcase the best the business has to offer in service staff, product and in-store experience – one of more than a dozen similar stores across the country.
Speaking to Inside Retail Weekly, Hastings said that bricks-and-mortar was fundamental to the Bras N Things business and that more stores would be opened in the coming years.
“We’ve invested in creating that ultimate experience where the customer is completely engaged and involved in our brand,” Hastings said.
While other product categories have struggled in recent years with exposure to lower-cost e-commerce operators, Bras N Things has been partly insulated by its high-service category.
Bras N Things has become a go-to for many Australian women looking for locally-designed lingerie that can be fitted by experts in-store.
The need for service has necessitated investment in training – in-store staff spend 6-12 weeks completing the theory portion of their retail training – before embarking on in-store learning.
While digital clothes-fitting technology is emerging, drawing investment from retail giants like Nike in recent months, Hastings said that digital scanning was far from being where it needed to be, and that doubling down on service was still the way forward for the business.
“I can honestly put my hand on my heart and say we have the best people in our team,” she said.
“We aren’t there yet with our online experience, we’re happy with how we’ve progressed … but we’ll let other companies be the test dummies for [digital fitting] and that kind of thing.”
The 170-store retailer was valued at $500 million by Hanes Australasia when it bought the business from Brett Blundy’s BB Retail Capital earlier this year.
With $180 million in annual sales and a three-year compound annual growth rate of 11 per cent, Bras N Things has been bucking the retail blues for some time.
But now, under the ownership of American clothing giant Hanesbrands Inc – whose other brands include Champion, Sheridan, Bonds and Berlei – Bras N Things is going global.
After expanding into South Australia two years ago, Hastings said the business is quickly gaining momentum with its service-centric model.
There are now eight stores trading in Africa as customers turn onto many of the same factors that have made the business successful in Australia.
“The customer has never been exposed to what we do especially in customer service and fitting,” Hastings said.
Hanes shoots for growth
For Hanes the growing momentum of Bras N Things is just part of a broader Asia Pacific expansion plan that started with its acquisition of Pacific Brands Limited for $1 million in 2016.
The deal saw Hanes take ownership of the Bonds, Berlei and Champion brands, which had been struggling locally to gain traction with fast-changing customers.
Since then, after refining the portfolio with the sales of Dunlop Flooring and Tontine Pillows, Hanes Australasia has focused on growth, managing to bring its veteran Champion brand back to the fore.
The veteran sportswear retailer has made the most of the athleisure trend in recent years and is now back to expanding its local store footprint, recently opening a new format store in DFO South Wharf.
Champion’s ANZ divisional manager Kellie Warwick said that in a world which is increasingly digital, the retailer was increasingly valuing its ability to connect with customers face-to-face.
“We are constantly reimagining and reinventing what is means to be a Champion, whilst always staying true to the core values of the brand,” Warwick told IRW. We have deep-dived into where our consumers are shopping, who inspires them and what they are looking for in us as a brand,”
Warwick said the company has strengthened relationships with retailers and that as the retail world is constantly evolving, the brand is “evolving with it”.