It’s been quite a rollercoaster year for Rhodes & Beckett, which collapsed into liquidation in February due to operational issues and too many overheads. Fast forward eight months later and the premium brand is ripe for a relaunch.
When private firm Black Bear Holdings took over suiting and shirting brand Rhodes & Beckett in July, director Michel Boutin decided it was time for a returned focus on high-quality men and womenswear and good old-fashioned customer service.
“Our customer lives in a modern world where they look for innovative, fresh designs on a quick rotation and more importantly expect first-class service,” says Boutin, who was previously creative director at Rhodes & Beckett.
“The new Rhodes & Beckett will embody this direction whilst still conveying our history of craftsmanship and link to old-world principles in tailoring.”
Now, the renewed business will focus be on creating a ‘club-like’ customer experience with fewer physical stores, higher quality product, a new website and an eye on overseas expansion.
According to Boutin, Rhodes & Beckett will go from a 25-store footprint including all concessions to just six.
Four key boutiques and two pop-up stores will be located across the country, some of which have undergone a refurbishment including the stores on Bourke Street, Collins Street and Grenfell Street in Adelaide. The pop-ups will appear on Collins Street and Martin Place in Sydney for most of 2018. According to Boutin, there are plans for
“We’re bucking the trend. Why? Because I don’t believe we need five stores on Collins Street,” says Boutin. I think you need one damn good one that’s going to represent us 150 per cent, every minute of every day, rather than the wishy-washy approach where we have more staff who don’t want to be there or customers who are just going in…rather than looking for designed shopping experiences.”
According to Boutin, the reinvention of Rhodes & Beckett will see a departure from big shopping centres and less of a focus on growing its store network.
“I blame us, rather than the customer, on the demise as retailers. We fall into that trap of just going, ‘Oh that’s a nice incentive from landlord’ and opening another store, which is ridiculous,” he points out.
“You should listen to your customer, know where they are, where they’re going and be able to afford a nice presentation to them at all times. They will come to your store, you don’t need to be on every corner.”
It’s too early to tell whether the premium suiting brand will be placed within department stores, as Boutin is cautious about the brand positioning and the changing nature of retailers like Myer right now.
Meanwhile, plans for international expansion are also currently underway and over the next three years, the brand will be most likely in Beijing, Shanghai, Jakarta, Singapore and the US and Canada.
Product, product, product
Rhodes & Beckett will also reinvest in the quality of its product. As Boutin explained, while the trend for some retailers may be to cheapen the manufacturing process to get better margin, the brand will be putting more money into its products.
“For example, take the buttons on a shirt – that’s a cost to making the shirt. A lot of manufacturers will go down to plastic buttons and try to them look special, but they’re still plastic. We will buck the trend and basically make all our shirts with mother-of-pearl buttons,” he says.
“That might be a bit detailed, but for us, it’s a big deal. We want to tell the customer that this is what they’re getting, as opposed to the $49 shirt you get online that will last you two washes and will rip. We’ll talk about the stitching and the fabrics…it’s really product, product, product.”
Meanwhile, new designs using high quality European fabrications will drop in stores every four to six weeks, including a product model that allows for a made-to-measure service with an estimated two-week turnaround.
Complementary luxury brands will also be stocked in-store and online including Floris London Perfumers, George Cleverly Shoes and Sozzi hosiery, Liberty London and more.
What women want
When news of Rhodes & Beckett’s liquidation became public, there were cries from devastated female customers who no longer knew where to shop for their suits, says Boutin.
At the moment, 35 per cent of the Rhodes & Beckett range is womenswear, although Boutin hopes that in two years, it will make up half of the business.
“There is nothing quite like Rhodes & Beckett for women in Australia period and, dare I say, around the word,” he claims. “We talk about uber brands at the top echelon like Gucci, and Armani that do offer suiting for women, but it’s a sprinkle here and there, they’re expensive and they’re not for everyday wear. You have Hugo Boss which is one step down which does cater to the market, but in Australia, it’s limited product.”
No word on Herringbone
Earlier this year, Herringbone went into liquidation and as yet, its future is still being decided upon, although Boutin would love to gain its licence and plan a strategy to ‘rebirth’ the brand.
“Herringbone started in men’s shirting and that’s what they’re good at and what they’re known for,” he explains.
“However, it made the same mistakes as everyone else and went into 100 different categories that never actually performed. So one must ask, if you were doing the right thing by that brand and again, by the customer, what do you do? So if we rebirth the brand, the strong strategy will be in men’s shirting and men’s shirting alone.”