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Co-op’s acquisition to broaden market reach

The Co-opThe Co-op’s acquisition of the Australian Geographic retail chain will double the campus retailer’s store network and lay the foundation for future growth, according to its CEO, Thorsten Wichtendahl.

The acquisition from AG’s sole shareholder, Myer Family Investments, will see 66 retail stores across shopping centres throughout Australia added to the university retailer’s network. The Co-op has set the target of refreshing the AG brand to be “bigger and better than before” and expect to be back at over 80 stores again within two years.

The book retailer is keen to leverage the two brands identities off each other, in creating a retail network that supports their goal of becoming “a lifelong learning partner for Australians.”

“We want to be the learning partner throughout life…this is really what we are known for and what we are good at – to support people’s learning, education and science,” Wichtendahl, told Inside Retail Weekly.

“AG is the perfect partner for us…since their tagline is feeding curious minds and that really fits with our ethos of supporting lifelong learning.”

Both brands will retain their separate identities with the Co-op to integrate top sellers from AG stores eventually into their product mix.

The majority of changes will take place at board and management level.

Commenting on AG’s recent struggles, Wichtendahl said the majority of like for like AG stores were actually performing well and also profitable. “They just didn’t have the critical mass to sustain the overheads, so having a very expensive support office and warehouse and those kinds of things,” he said.

The high overheads in conjunction with reducing the store footprint were the issue as oppose to AG’s value proposition being the problem, according to Wichtendahl.

“We are looking to reinvigorate the brand, really position it as a discovery experiential brand.”

An overhaul of the AG online platform represents the short-term focus for the Co-op. Click and collect and the incorporation of the Co-op’s successful member loyalty program will be “turned on pretty quickly” as well as improving all the basics including website load time and mobile functionalities.

Aust-Nat-GeoThough 2-3 stores may close in the medium term, the Co-op are seeking locations where there are currently no AG stores, to expand into.

“The team is focused on driving both brands bigger and better than before, so we will certainly continue to look for campus locations,” said Wichtendahl.

“We are only at 29 out of 39 universities in Australia so there are still a couple of universities who are running their bookstore themselves. “Everyone will focus on their core competencies and core capabilities to see us at all locations.”

Peter Hodgson, CEO of The Myer Family Investments, welcomed the acquisition and said the deal marks a positive story for the retail industry. “We look forward to seeing the brand continue and are grateful for the support over the years from Australian Geographic Retail’s customers, suppliers and staff,” he said.

The acquisition will mean the Co-op, as Australia’s largest member owned retailer with over 1.9 million members, primarily made up of current and former University students who shop at their 63 campus stores and online store; are able to tackle the problem of accessing ‘customers that graduate’ and don’t return.

“In the past we have only been able to service them [customers] throughout uni and basically a couple of months after they graduate students forget about us,” said Wichtendahl. “We have always had that challenge. Now we have this awesome database of university educators and people in Australia that needs different marketing.”

Wichtendahl said “textbooks are not the most exciting business to be in” and the company has over the last 4 or 5 years been focused on diversifying into general merchandise categories, growing apparel sales, tech & stationery plus anything and everything that students need. “Stores are becoming more profitable and our campus network is sustainable but it doesnt really get us out of bed in the morning…the other question is how do we create the next $200 million business or where’s growth going to come from?”


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