COMPANY BIO: Stylerunner
Based in Alexandria, Sydney and employing nearly 30 staff, Stylerunner is enjoying rapid growth since launching three years ago. Stylerunner is disrupting the sportswear and fashion industry and is growing at an enviable rate.
Inside Retail managing director, Justin Grey, spoke with Julie after she picked up a World Retail Award and on the eve of taking home a top gong at the Retail Customer Excellence Awards in Melbourne.
Justin Grey: Congratulations on winning the Young Retail Entrepreneur Of The Year Award at the recent World Retail Awards in Dubai. It’s no small achievement to be recognised on such a big stage.
Julie Stevanja: Thank you. I’m still pinching myself. It’s a difficult field to pick because all of the finalists were in different fields. There were food delivery companies in India and other people like that, which I think they have a huge advantage of having an enormous population to be able to scale through pretty immediately. It was a very tough field.
Catherine van der Meulen suggested that we should enter. She said, ‘you would be a shoe-in’, and I thought, ‘wow, that’s a big stretch’. I really didn’t know if we’d even make the shortlist, but we are the kind of company that never gives up. It was a very long stretch but we said, ‘Let’s give it a go’. Catherine’s confidence in us gave us a bit of a push as well. We thought, let’s do that’, then my team put the submission together.
JG: You’ve said that you think what appealed to the judges about Stylerunner was that you’re doing things quite differently to other sportswear retailers and how sportswear has traditionally been sold. How did you land on the idea of what Stylerunner would become?
JS: I guess we are a challenger brand that understands next generation potentially better than traditional retailers have. I think today’s generation of consumers definitely look for different things. They look for a brand, even a retail brand that they shop from, that has similar interests, passions and communicate in a way that really resonates with them.
The whole retail industry has changed really rapidly over the last four, five, six years in particular with online and with social media. Especially, Instagram over the last few years. We just jumped on board with a fresh blank canvas, a fresh new approach that’s really embraced this modern way of communicating with consumers. Essentially, traditional retailers haven’t really adapted or changed much to embrace that change of what consumers are looking for. We just approached everything as consumers – the way that we would like to see retail be done. Some of our photo shoots are pretty daring, they’re certainly very bold, very editorial. These are the sort of looks that you would regularly see in the campaigns like a catalogue cover; they’re not commonly seen on product pages. It definitely takes a lot more time – it takes a team of the best models, best hair and make-up artist and the best fashion photographers to execute these looks. It’s more costly as well. We really invested in that to deliver this look, feel and consumer experience that is really premium. I think it really resonates with the consumer.
JG: And that’s really important in modern retail, isn’t it? It goes back to the old adage that retailers have to listen to their customers, but coupled with that is the fact that consumer expectations have just skyrocketed and their demands are now harder to meet.
JS: Absolutely. We also do style things in a way that customers really want to wear them. I think traditionally retail has tried not to be too fussy – just show the product, whether it’s on a hanger or on a white mannequin or whatever. It’s just a simple, ‘here’s the product’. Customers these days also want to see how they can wear that product. ‘What does it look like?’, ‘what other ways could I wear this?’. It sets the mood when you see it styled in a particular way; you see yourself walking down the street in it. Again, it’s an example that customer expectations have increased, which we’re really hyper aware of and are ready to deliver, even if it does take a lot more effort.
JG: Your big focus in terms of customer experience is on delivering fresh innovation. What strategies have you put in place to achieve that?
JS: As far as my personal retail experience goes, I worked in retail stores when I was at university. Apart from that, I am something of a consummate consumer. I was born shopping, I didn’t shop for everything, but I had a taste for very nice things. If I couldn’t afford them straight away, I was willing to go without and one day I’d own that thing that I really aspired to. Growing up, I was definitely a shopaholic. It was my experience as a shopper who shopped a lot with lots of different stores. I had really high expectations and I knew what a great shopping experience felt like. I don’t actually have a lot of retail experience on the retail side, but I know what the best retail experiences look like and feel like.
JG: Would you say you’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit or character – which is obviously a big leg-up in terms of being a business owner…
JS: Yes, I think so. I was always inventing things when I was younger and my dad was always inventing things too, so maybe that’s something that has passed down genetically. I worked in a few professional roles … in institutional finance at a bank. I loved parts of those professional roles but I always felt that there were part missing. Until I worked out that I was entrepreneurial, I never felt quite complete in any of my previous roles.
JG: When you launched Stylerunner three years ago, did you anticipate the sharp trajectory the business has enjoyed in short time?
JS: I don’t know if I thought it would take this little time. When I first had the idea for Stylerunner, I was in a Bikram yoga class. It was an illuminating moment and I realised that this could be huge. If you put the patterns together of online businesses like Net-A-Porter and ASOS, the sportswear market is a huge market. No-one was doing this with sportswear; I definitely saw how large the potential could be. I thought that one day we were going to get there.
I didn’t think it would grow as quickly as it has.
JS: Yeah, there’s really not many. I guess the main competitors would be traditional sports stores like Rebel, who would obviously compete for the same dollar. But they have a product which is much more mass market, whereas we’re really more at the premium end. We get top tier products from our main brands, like Nike and Puma, which you won’t often see at the sports stores. Then there are sites like The Iconic, which also serves sports. In that bucket we’d include places like ASOS, which is probably the closest we can think of in terms of direct competition.
JG: What trends are you seeing in sportswear at the moment? Athleisure a obviously a big focus for Stylerunner…
JS: Athleisure is definitely huge. There’s certainly a lot of interest in the celebrity collaborations – Puma by Rihanna has been one of our bestsellers over the last six months … I think there will be more of that. Beyonce just released a line, so I think that there’s going to be a lot more celebrity collaborations. Athleisure is huge for us. Things are moving away from the white sneaker, which has been a really big trend.
JG: Who is the typical customer for Stylerunner? Is it the consumer who is active in some kind of fitness regime who also wants to buy items with a fashion bent?
JS: It’s pretty broad. We see a few different key demographics. One of them is the young girl who is maybe late-teens to mid-20s. She spends a little bit less, but she’s interested in buying more often, so she wants the latest thing. She buys a lot of athleisure as well. The next category is for the high achiever who has got a great job, a disposable income, and loves her fashion. The typical fashion shopper who also goes to the gym. Most people these days are looking after themselves. She’s shopping for her sportswear, she wants something that lives up to the rest of her wardrobe and that’s a little bit more premium.
JS: Absolutely. The wellness industry is set to hit a trillion dollars next year, so it’s the next trillion-dollar industry. It’s a new status symbol to look after yourself instead of choosing what may be seen as a bit more of a lazy option. It’s become a status image in itself. I think people really see a fringe benefit to looking after themselves. There’s more education now – they know that it gives them more energy and they feel better for it.
JG: You have partnerships with many of the major sports brands. Are you doing anything with Under Armour?
JS: We’re not doing anything with Under Armour yet. I think they’re exclusive with Rebel Sports until next year. Once that exclusivity is over, we’ll certainly look at it as a brand that we’d have on board. We can see a place for it, but right now it’s not someone that we’ve been working with.
JG: What are the longer-term plans for Stylerunner, throughout this year and then moving ahead for the business?
JS: We are currently in the process of raising capital. Once we raise capital, we’d really like to look at pursuing international expansion with a bit more focus. We do ship internationally at the moment, we’ve shipped to 114 countries I think at the moment. That’s without any national effort, so we would like to put a bit more effort towards that and maybe choose the next market for us to really aim for.
JG: What have you identified as potentially the first international market for Stylerunner? Is the US an obvious choice, or would you go for somewhere closer to home?
JS: It’s a really difficult one. We’re currently doing a lot of research around southeast Asia, which obviously is nice and close to home. It’s a really exciting market for us. We certainly already sell quite a lot in southeast Asia. China and Hong Kong we think would require a bit more longer-term planning; translation services and things like that. But it’s definitely in our long-term goal. The US and the UK is a difficult one. In many ways, we think the US is a little bit saturated. You have a lot of really huge department stores that are all now selling active wear. You’ve got Athleta by Gap and a couple of small competitors that have come up. If we were to assess that with Europe, Europe has its own troubles. Economic uncertainties, but we think [Europe] is a really great opportunity and we’re looking at potential people to partner with in our international expansion. If we get with certain strategic partners, that would really lead us towards one of those markets.
JG: What’s your take on eventually and potentially opening physical stores?
JS: We currently do pop-ups every now and then; we probably do two or three a year. We don’t think we’d see Stylerunner as a 35-outlet type store. We wouldn’t really use it for distribution. I’m hearing the arguments people are making around that. Our economics are pretty healthy, our marketing spend has been less than seven per cent and we’ve grown 1000 per cent over the last two years. And that’s mostly organic, with very little marketing spend. We have the luxury of being able to fulfil via a centralised warehouse, which I understand a lot of people are finding difficult to justify.
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