A strong local footprint, diversified eCommerce strategies and manageable international expansion; the trinity of fashion retail.
For multi-brand retailer General Pants, these have been the recent guidelines to success, as the brand is set to overhaul its presence here in Australia, while expanding both online and internationally.
General Pants CEO Craig King believes the recent success across all three was born out of a natural progression and a repeatedly demanding need to be ahead of the competition.
“Part of our brand is always trying to meet expectations. It's not any one thing we do but it's the culmination over the years of always trying to do things a little bit new, a little bit faster and trying to keep ahead of the curve.”
For the brand, the US has been the latest breakthrough, opening two boutique locations in Los Angeles and New York in the past 18 months.
Even though it has been a controlled entry into the US, King believes this is the only way the brand could ensure it didn't burn out like many other Australian labels overseas.
He says the brand needed to identify how it was going to separate itself from not only other Australian brands but American labels that played in the same space.
It was for this reason that the brand opted to go with a boutique concept store strategy.
“The American market has seen a bit of carnage from Australian brands getting over there in the past. We were looking at it at least five years before we opened our first store over there.
“It had to be niche because it's no secret that the American retail market is under a lot of strain. There are retailers, Urban Outfitters and stores of the same ilk, that are not particularly dissimilar to that of General Pants.
“We aren’t going to have any competitive advantage going over with a like-for-like product in a saturated market. We pulled back the offer to only include the Australian brands.”
King says it was about going in with a tighter offer, one that would speak to a completely different demographic that the one most would expect when thinking of General Pants.
He says both the LA (380sqm) and the New York (250sqm) stores have already seen a different type of customer based on spend alone.
The New York store currently houses the largest range of Ksubi clothing in the northern hemisphere and King says this is the main driver behind a higher US consumer spend.
“The sales are heavily skewed towards Ksubi and generally speaking, the faster the fashion.
“In those stores over there some of the Ksubi custom products can be $700 - $3000 for a highly customised jacket but we are selling a lot of $300 jeans and $450 jackets.
“We find that the average transactions in those locations is well over $200 which is nearly three times more than what it is at General Pants.”
King says this swing toward Ksubi has also led to an average shopper being male, with a 60/40 split of male to female across the stores.
“It's actually predominantly men because it is being skewed by Ksubi, which has a growing women’s business but it is still probably quite strong in men.
“Then I think we've got that sort of 30 year old girl who's fashion forward who seeks out our brand, who wants something interesting in denim.”
But General Pants' success and change is not just limited to the US.
At home, King says the brand is about to undergo a bricks-and-mortar evolution, as it looks to enhance in-store experience and redevelop key retail locations.
“We thought that, in the last six months, we are only really moving at the same pace as everybody else. And it was time to take a serious stride forward in regard to store design and in-store experience.”
The company has recently completed the renovation of its Bondi Junction store, which grew its floor space by 40% and now boasts three, six metre high, LED stadium grade screens, wrapping around the walls of 60 metres of shop frontage.
King says this affords the brand a whole new way of engaging the customer, particularly through the digital space. It is now opting to focus on movies and animation, rather than just traditional campaign images.
The business has also identified changing retail opportunities as part of its bricks-and-mortar shift, with a focus on experiential retailing.
The brand’s George Street store is a perfect example, King says.
“We moved out of Pitt Street because paying $7000 a square metre doesn't afford you the luxury of creating an experience, as every square metre has to be so productive. We moved to George Street where we've taken 1100sqm and it's given us so much more opportunity to create experiences.
“We've got a vinyl record store in there. I don't expect that to have incredible trade but it gives a great experience to a niche audience. Customers can come in and visit and not spend any money at all. Hopefully the longer they stay and the more things they bump into, the more likely they are to spend money.
“We don't have that gun to our head to be trading at $20,000 a square metre, it's about creating an experience.”
King says George Street and Bondi Junction are the first of many stores to undergo this 'makeover' procedure, with at least five to seven more stores on the horizon.
“Generally we've been toward the front of the bus when it comes to innovation and this time, we sat down with the shareholders and said, what if we just did this? And they said go for it.
“So this is the first store on George Street. We are opening a two-level store with 48 metres of frontage in Elizabeth Street, Brisbane. Then we are looking at three more locations.”
When it comes to eCommerce, even though the platform will look to grow out its offering, King still believes less is more.
General Pants currently stocks 104 brands in total but by the end of October, it will have added another 23 brands to online only.
King says this strategy is part of a larger plan to remain independent from the growing number of online, multi-brand, retailers.
“In the last few years, online retailers have been bragging about having 600 or 700 brands. We wondered if we were getting marginalised by having a fairly tough offer while these online guys have hundreds and hundreds of brands.
“We find that sort of blunt offer leads to so much inventory indigestion while brands are trying to be a small percentage of everybody's wallet.
“We are trying to be a reasonable percentage of a finite group. Those are the parameters around the choices we might make online.”
The new online strategy will also give General Pants further opportunities to experiment with new brands.
King says online taps into a visual aspect of consumer buying habits, allowing General Pants to display more skews and provide a more rounded out offer.
“Buying for online you can buy 30 units of something, buying for 54 stores you really have to invest in to 600, 700, 800 units of something.
“It gives us a bit more flexibility to trial things online. If we find something that is particularly strong and is out performing we would 100% review it for the bricks-and-mortar business.”