Retail in 2020 is off to a rocky start. In the space three weeks, over 180 stores across Australia have been earmarked for closure, with several brands already confirmed to either disappear, reduce their local footprint, or retract into the online space.
Even businesses that have done well are feeling the pinch, with Black Friday having shifted the Christmas period in a major way, and catastrophic bushfires and drought hurting communities, consumers, and infrastructure alike.
“[Retail] is going through a very tough phase at the moment, to be honest,” PAS Group’s chief executive Eric Morris told Inside Retail.
“I think the key thing to remember is that retail is not dead, it’s just going through a transition. That’s my firm view.”
PAS Group holds a number of brands in its stable across several parts of the fashion industry – such as Review, Black Pepper, Jets, White Runway, Yarra Trail, Marco Polo, and Bondi Bather. Across those brands, the group sells across department stores, specialty retailers, as well as approximately 800 independent stores.
“We’ve had our challenges over the last few years, but we’re still around to tell the story, which is important.”
So what is the difference of approach that has given PAS Group’s brands a form of longevity? According to Morris, it is due to the business ensuring its offers are diversified from one another.
“It’s a strength. Because our eggs aren’t in one basket,” Morris said.
“We have a lot of back-office functions, which are integrated – a lot of the finance and logistics. But from a design, production, and marketing perspective, it’s all done independently because it’s very important to keep the [intellectual property] of every brand separate.”
“It’s all about niche.”
This strategy doesn’t only relate to the production of its products, but also the niches each brand has carved out for itself, with each offer functionally entering a different market to its stablemates.
While this ensures the group’s brands rarely compete for purchases, it also means the business doesn’t end up with a massive footprint in any one fashion vertical.
“We’ve got divisions that focus on selling tennis rackets, tennis balls, boxing gloves, etcetera, which from a production perspective is very different than apparel production for Review, which is different to the apparel production for Jets,” Morris said.
“For us, it’s all about niche. It’s important that any brand [we own] has its own particular niche. If I look at Review, it’s got its own niche in the market, as does Black Pepper in the older demographics.”
This older market is one that is largely underserved, according to Morris, but one that requires more traditional marketing. Print media and loyalty programs are key to Black Pepper’s customer communication, as well as email campaigns to reach more tech-savvy customers.
“I think there are opportunities in the older market, because it’s not a sexy market that everyone wants to get involved with,” Morris said.
“It’s a specific market, there’s a lot needed when dealing with an older consumer. It’s about having the service levels for them in-store, and stores which are suitable for them to shop in.”
To Morris, the most important thing to remember in retail is how well a brand’s offer is integrated between its physical and online offers, as well as how well it understands its customer.
“Do you work on a single customer view? How do you communicate with customers? Do you know your customers?” Morris said.
“All I know is that that should be the focus of business moving forward.”
Eric Morris is the chief executive of PAS Group – a position he has held for almost 15 years. He is speaking at Inside Retail Live 26-27 February, 2020. For more information, visit: insideretail.live