Its newest store, opened in Paddington, Sydney on February 26, will be followed by the opening of a new factory outlet at Orange Grove in western Sydney on March 17 as part of a broad store expansion strategy.
Forcast managing director, Paul Chea, told Inside Retail Weekly that the retailer plans to open five stores this year, following on from its seven store openings and refurbishments in 2015.
Last year, Forcast enter the Western Australia market, with three boutiques now established, as well as a new store in Sydney CBD’s World Square, which opened in November. The World Square store said to be trading well, benefitting from its location, which is accessible for the brand’s corporate customers who define its ‘desk to dinner’ range.
Some of the newer Forcast stores were treated to the new expanded format of 140-150sqm, introduced last year, compared to Forcast’s usual 100sqm format. The Paddington store has a smaller footprint, at only 65sqm.
Another key element of the brand’s continuing appeal and in attracting more customer interest is visual presentation, Chea said.
“We are continually improving merchandising standards, from small things such as ensuring eye-level displays, improving dressing mannequin standards, [and] stricter cleanliness standards that are managed through our own regular company-self audits.
“We have also tweaked our hanging facilities, racks and strive to produce a harmonious flow throughout our stores to ensure perfect product display that is also visually appealing.”
Contributing to this is the important tool of customer feedback, which helps guide decision-making.
“Our design team is continuously working on producing the best ranges that our customers want and love. They are in constant communication with our customer service team on the front line, who are in direct contact with our customers, asking questions about their thoughts on styles, fitting of garments right down to the colours and fabrications used.
We always listen and encourage any feedback (good and bad) from our staff and customers to ensure we are continuously improving every day. This is indeed one of our company’s core values and definitely keeps us grounded, working hard to ensure that we are providing the products, service and experience our customers want, as well as maintaining a brand our staff are proud to work with.”
Chea single-handedly started the brand as a wholesaler in 1992 with stores established in 1995 – the first of which was in Parramatta in western Sydney. The chain has since gradually spread its store network to a national level, with 47 stores at present (including the newly opened Paddington store), most of which are concentrated in NSW.
‘Desk to dinner wear’ has been the brand’s main focus, however burgeoning customer interest in Forcast reaching outside of these parameters led to the launch of a denim range for smart casual weekend wear in February 2015 and a boutique label for cocktail dresses last November. Forcast Boutique is a seasonal and limited edition range that’s offered in selected stores and made with higher quality fabrics and workmanship with a price point starting at $139.95.
The Forcast website has just been refreshed and new elements incorporated to make online shopping more efficient and easier for the customer, with a focus on user-friendly functions as well as styling tips/views.
“We find our customers wanting more information and they are extremely visual,” explained Chea. “So we have increased our product option views and also provide images of products on a live model and mannequin as well as adding more informative and detailed descriptions per product.
“We want to provide everything necessary for the customer on our online store; there is no room for doubt to buy and shop online.”
The refreshed website is also mobile responsive to cater for the increase in mobile shoppers. In addition, an e-look book function showcases Forcast’s latest catalogue for the convenience of its online shoppers, if they can’t get to or physically access boutiques to pick up a copy.
This forms part of the business’s focus on e-commerce, which is set to play a major role in its future plans.
“With high shopping centre rentals, the conventional brick and mortar stores are becoming more difficult and ideal for us to consider,” Shea said. “Together with the market shift focus on online shopping, e-commerce is definitely the future, which is top on our priority list.”
Recent initiatives also include seeking to strengthen brand awareness with Forcast’s latest range.
“With increasing brand awareness as one of our goals this year, we have been collaborating more closely with creative teams to produce greater campaigns that our customers can find inspiration and relevance to,” he explained.
“Our latest campaign, Autumn ’16, and the range is being released this week as we finish off our last few days of summer and enter the colder season. It’s the start of a new year, new season with new goals intact and hopefully our customers are ready for what we have to offer!”
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