Fusion Retail Brands
In September 2011, the receiver of the former Colorado Group announced the launch of Fusion Retail Brands, a new retailing group to house iconic Australian brands diana ferrari, Mathers, Williams, and Colorado. Headquartered in Hawthorn, Melbourne, Fusion Retail Brands employs 1500 across 200 stores Australia-wide.
Justin Grey: You came on board with Fusion Retail Brands with a sizeable job to do. How has it been so far?
John Hardy: This is such a good business, and the people in it are so good. There’s a lot of really dedicated people who have been here for years and years. It just seems a shame that the whole thing could’ve tipped over. But we’ve now turned it around. We’ve cut a lot of expenses out of the business – all the usual stuff. We’re now focused on the product and the sales training. And it really has turned it around, and it’ll be quite a good little business.
JG: When you got the call to come on board last November, you were obviously aware of the situation in the business and the challenges it presented…
JH: I knew, but when you’re 72, you’re not looking to enhance your CV or anything like that! So I could take it or leave it. But Barbeques [Galore] was like that too – that was a minute to midnight too. We tripled the profit in two years, that’s pretty good. Then sold it. But when you’re my age, it doesn’t matter – you’re not worried about career paths. It’s been a bit of a challenge, but there are some really good people in this business, and they’ve never been given a chance. So once you take them off the leash and let them have a go, we can talk about anything – product, marketing, anything. There’s no sacred cows. And I know nothing about shoes. So I’ve got to learn. But since they’ve had a go, the culture in the place has completely changed. They’re all enthusiastic and looking at new opportunities everywhere, which is really good. Some of the product we’ve got coming out in the next few months is really good, compared to the offering we’ve had. And it’s reflected in our sales – they’re going gangbusters.
JG: Has this shift in culture all happened under your watch?
JH: Well, that’s about all I can offer. I mean, what do I know about shoes? But I think the cultural change was needed. Everybody in this place worked in a silo. And no one talked to anyone. We’re all in the same team here. But I think the previous people who were running this business set everyone up as competitors. Now, all the product development people sit in the same area, so it’s impossible for them not to talk to each other. So the sharing of ideas is really good. Some of the stuff that they’ve developed is good. In the next six months, we’ll have some really good shoes. [Previously] the business would never buy product from Spain or Portugal. Now we’re buying product from Spain and Portugal. And even I think the product is really good, and I’m not a shoe person! The new product will mostly be going into Mathers, and some of the Williams stores as well.
JG: The plans announced at the beginning of the year to close 40 unprofitable stores, cut staff, and renegotiate contracts by the end of July – has that all been finalised now?
JH: It’s all done now. We have closed some unprofitable stores. I think some that we closed, we shouldn’t have closed. But that was already in the pipeline, and for some, leases had expired. I don’t think it was quite 40 that closed, but it was close to that. But we’ve opened a few too. There’s been a major change in the exec team here and we’ve recruited some really good people. We’ve got a general manager of product who is ex-Rivers – he’s just an encyclopaedia of shoes and he’s doing a great job bringing the product up. We’ve changed our marketing strategy … we’ve change almost everything, but it’s really starting to come together now and it’s working really well.
JG: Were the store closures more prominent in certain brands than others?
JH: No, it was really just across the board. Mostly Mathers and Williams though, not so much Diana Ferrari. We’ve only got 23 Diana Ferrari stores now, so we don’t want to lose any more.
JG: Are there any plans to sell down any of the brands at this stage?
JH: There was some thought a while ago that they were going to sell off some brands, but no one’s got an appetite for that anymore. And they’re such iconic brands – Colorado and diana ferrari. And [diana ferrari product] Supersoft – I’m just amazed at how many of those get sold every week. It’s an incredible product.
JG: Across the four brands, which are leading the turnaround for Fusion?
JH: I think one goes forward and another one drops back a bit, so it’s a moving feast. The fashion business is never easy. I’ve never been in the fashion business. I’ve been in barbeques, furniture and vacuum cleaners – pretty stable stuff. With vacuum cleaners, if you didn’t sell it this year, you sold it next year. It didn’t matter.But fashion is not quite like that. We’ve all had our struggles with the product over time, but it seems now to be righting itself. In retail, we live day by day. But I think they’re all heading in the right direction.
JG: What does the rest of 2015 hold for Fusion Retail Group?
JH: One of the good things is we’ve got investors now who want to put money into this business. That’s a first. They can see things have turned around now and that it’s headed in the right direction.
It’s not me – it’s everyone here who has done that. It’s just like any business – as old Godfrey told me years ago, ‘If you spend without counting, you go broke without knowing’. And there was a bit of that here. We’re buying better than we were a year ago. And I think we’re selling better than we were a year ago. All those things are working towards getting the result we want.