Inside Retail chats with Cathryn Wills, managing director and creative director of Mimco. This month, Cathryn marks 10 years with Mimco. Coming into the business as general manager design, she was soon earmarked as a leader at Mimco and worked her way up to creative director, then creative and commercial director, and then into her current role, which she has held since October 2012. Prior to Mimco, Cathryn spent a number of years with Country Road. Mimco is a women’s fashion and accessories
retailer occupying a bridging position in the market between fast fashion and luxury. Mimco boasts around 110 stores across Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, including a number of concessions in David Jones stores. Next month Mimco will open 11 concessions in select Myer stores. Mimco has been part of the Country Road Group since October 2012, after being acquired by Witchery Group in 2007. Next month, Mimco will mark 20 years in business. Justin Grey: 2015 was a great year for Mimco – how do you plan on following that up this year? Cathryn Wills: Business finished off very well for the second half of 2015 – July to December was really fantastic for us. And that was on top of the previous financial year also being brilliant. We know that 2015 really was the result of building strategies and implementing and driving them – strategies that we built three years ago. And we really hit our stride in calendar year 2015 – a lot of the things that we put into place really kicked in in 2015. We’re feeling like we’ve got the right team in place, everyone is very engaged, and the range architecture is on track. We’re innovating in marketing and design, so we’re feeling good about 2016. A lot success usually comes from planning it well; it’s not about sitting here saying it’s all great and it’s going to continue to be great, without any effort on our part. But we’re pretty disciplined when it comes to strategising, and then checking ourselves and questioning ourselves to figure out how we can improve. JG: What plans are in place to mark the 20th anniversary of the business next month? CW: February is going to be a huge month for us. We’ve got a celebratory soiree happening in Melbourne, as well as some VIP evenings for our Mimcollective community, which is our loyalty program. And then instore there’ll be some fun birthday activities, as well as some keepsake items that we’ve produced for the event. And we’re also launching our charity alignment with Our Watch, which is an initiative set up to drive nationwide change towards gender equality, with the intention of eradicating domestic violence. Our Watch has only been going since 2013 and we’ve been in discussions with them for about 12 months. We’re very excited to be launching a small collection of pouches in February, and all gross proceeds of the sale of those pouches will go to Our Watch to support fundraising for education-based programs. It’s a great thing to be a part of – it’s a distressing subject, but it’s coming out of the dark, which is good to see. JG: 20 years trading is nothing to sneeze at, particularly given the challenging nature of retail. Mimco has certainly come a long way in that time… CW: It’s grown enormously. When we look back at the financials, and the creative brand history, it’s definitely a proud feeling to see the growth. It’s come with a huge amount of energy and long days and nights, mistakes and lots of strategising and revising. And I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say it’s definitely been a labour of love to have built the brand as much as we have. JG: How have things within the business ramped up since Country Road Group acquired the business in 2012? CW: We’ve gone through two acquisitions and continued to grow along the way. Both of the acquisitions had their own degree of ramped up growth. Being purchased by Witchery Group was obviously with private equity behind it, and that was huge store expansion as well as category expansion. And then the sale to Country Road Group three years ago bought with it improved systems and warehousing; the back end was very much improved up for us. So both purchases have allowed there to be a good foundation of growth for us, and with a strong and ambitious team it’s ensured that we’ve continued to grow consistently over the years. JG: You yourself have just this month marked 10 years with Mimco. What changes have you seen in the various roles you’ve had in the business over that time? CW: The turnover in profit numbers have quadrupled over the eight years since the first sale of the brand to Witchery Group. So that’s a fairly substantial change that I’ve seen occur. We’ve had to grow the team, we’ve had to get better at articulating what the brand stands for. And naturally the bigger the audience you’ve got internally and externally, it gets more risky if we’re inconsistent with that message. We’ve become more strategic with our growth plan, stronger with our store designs, and more polished with our creative brand representation. But the core essence of the brand – the creativity, the boldness of the personality, experimentation, emotional connectivity to our customer, a high degree of authenticity, and pushing to improve with every season – that’s pretty much remained unchanged since the first day I walked into Mimco. I found a kindred spirit when I joined Mimco all those years ago, and I’ve pushed for that culture to remain in the business. JG: You’ve said that you’re not complacent about international entrants coming to Australia, nor about the increase of online shopping – and that both can work in Mimco’s favour if the business embraces them appropriately. How would you go about that? CW: First and foremost, competition means that you have to sharpen up your own skills and own brand and be better than you were yesterday. I know they sound like motherhood statements, and they can be if you don’t live that sort of culture. But I think if you truly look at the competition and think, ‘wow, they’re doing a great job, we need to get better at what we’re doing’, that can make you deliver better product and better service to the customer. The risk heightens when your product is a commodity or it’s generic. And we work very hard at Mimco to not live in that space. But I can understand for some retailers it gets a bit scary. JG: The integration of digital technology in the recently opened Pitt Street flagship in Sydney is impressive. To what degree is digital integration key to ensure retailers are still pulling customers into their stores? CW: The days of telling the customer where he or she is going to shop are well and truly over. The first aim is to have a brand that is compelling and interesting, and then the second aim is to connect that brand wherever he or she wants to purchase it. So yes, stores have to be compelling. I shop a lot, and I know how I feel when I walk into a store and it’s beautiful, there’s a great range, and the environment offers me a deeper understanding of the brand and the design journey. I also like shopping online, but it’s a different feeling that I’m looking for from when I go into a store. I want the store experience to be tactile, friendly, interesting, and I want the immediate gratification of the purpose then and there. So I actually think we’ve all got a lot further to go in bringing bricks and clicks closer. I still think that they’re seen a two separate entities, and the sooner we all realise that it’s one shopping channel and that it can exist in different environments to the customer and make those interactions as interesting as possible, it’ll be a better situation. Some of the best user experiences are actually in galleries, museums and restaurants, and retail can probably learn a lot from those more experiential approaches. It’s about surprising them as well; we’re all very overloaded with multiple messages, so you’ve got to jolt people out of their boredom and get them to spend. JG: How is the Pitt St Mall flagship performing since opening in mid-2015? Has it fulfilled expectations so far? CW: Yes, absolutely. It’s definitely fulfilling our expectations and I think it will just get stronger and stronger. And there’s more ideas on VIP activities and different events that we can hold in that space. So that’s been a great opening for us. JG: What are the plans for the store network in 2016? Can the Australian market accommodate more stores? CW: We’ve got a relatively conservative store plan. We’re looking at a few new locations, but more refurbishments than new locations. We’ve got several stores that we need to modernise into our new store fit. And we’re just continuing to review our existing locations – looking to see where our customers are shopping. Sometimes that might be in a David Jones concession and we may not have a store in that centre, so we’d look to potentially add stores in those centres. But I wouldn’t say it’s about a huge store expansion plan. We’re also opening 11 Myer concessions in a couple of weeks. We haven’t been in Myer before; we’ve been in all of the David Jones stores, but we’ve never Myer. That starts rolling out from February. One of the great things that’s happened in Australian retail is the modernisation of some of the key centres to really becoming world-class. And that has opened up more opportunity for the Mimco brand. Pacific Fair [on the Gold Coast] is going to be quite extraordinary – that is an extra opportunity that five years we wouldn’t have seen happen. So the refurbishments that are going on in shopping centres have certainly changed the landscape in Australia for the positive. JG: Are there discussions within the Mimco team about launching stores in new international markets? CW: The major considerations for us is we’re a bridging brand. We sit between high street and high-end – we’re not in the luxury space, but we’re not in the fast fashion, low end space. And being a bridging brand, any movement into the international space needs to be carefully considered. It definitely has been and remains to be on our strategy list, and potentially in the next 18 months to two years maybe there will be some developments [overseas]. But nothing is confirmed as yet. We would be very, very careful going into international environments. The bigger the business gets, the more careful we have to be. And we’ve grown up a lot in the past three to five years, and added a level of sophistication to the brand, and that has yielded great commercial results. So eight to 10 years ago we would have an idea and just go for it; that is less of an opportunity the larger you are. So we’re careful with any major strategic decision. JG: How is the movement in the AUD affecting the business, given the offshore manufacturing that Mimco relies on? CW: It’s tough. We certainly work very hard to maintain the majority of our RRPs. There’s been a few that we’ve needed to increase prices on, but we’ve done it very carefully and worked to explain to our customer the reason behind it. It remains an ongoing challenge as the dollar continues to drop, however we really approach it from a robust, forward-planning perspective with manufacturers, expert design engineering and continuing to strategically distil the ranges so we don’t go too wide and so we know what we’re developing and how much it costs. Which seems simple, but the bigger the range gets, it can get a little bit unwieldy. So when times are tough with the AU, you need to have a very robust range architecture in place with your volume items and more highlight items and be clear with the margins that you’re making on both. Want more Inside Retail? Subscribe to Inside Retail Weekly now and get our premium print publication delivered to your door every week.