Assia Benmedjdoub catches up with Supre general manager Elle Roseby. This is an exclusive extract from the June edition - subscribe here.
The last time we spoke, Cotton On Group acquired Supre and you were settling into the role of general manager. New team, new office, where are you now?
I think what’s really great about the story so far is the team is still the same. The management team we started with have not left, so there was Rowie Kelly (store experience manager), Nicole Aquila (buying and production manager), Vanessa Tindale (strategic brand manager), Pat Keresztesi (planning manager) and Rod Kitchin (brand finance manager). They were the original team members and we’ve added to that. We started with five senior managers and now we’ve got eight as the brand has grown over time.
What has been the most significant change in the business?
The journey has been about having a very productive store portfolio. We now know we trade really well in stores sized anywhere between 150 and 200 square metres. This is the footprint. So number one, know what our retail model needs to be. Number two, we also have the store design. Our new format is called The Clubhouse and we have about 12 stores with this design. We’ve been evolving it for the past two years but the best expression of it was at Melbourne Central and that opened last August. That was our hero moment and we’ve been evolving it since. We’ve opened seven new stores in the past year, including more recently Macarthur Square in New South Wales.
How many stores do you have across the Supre business now?
In Australia, we’ve got around 94 stores. In South Africa, we have four. In New Zealand, we have 10. In total, it’s about 108 stores altogether.
What is it about this new store format that makes it so productive?
First of all, when we first took over the brand, it had one vendor. The Supre brand had one supplier out of China. This probably limited the owners in what they could offer their customer as far as cut and sew, knitwear, jackets, denim. What we’ve done over the course of the last three years is decide what matters most to the customer and what they need in their wardrobe. What we know, and why this is productive, is the layout of the stores.
Do you mean through merchandising?
Yes. What we do is underpinned by denim, so we have a very strong denim base to our merchandising. We know that we also need a casual wall, so we have ‘Sporte’ or an athleisure area for our customer. Then we have what we call ‘The Night Out’ section. We know her lifestyle is very casual based, but if she wants to go out at night-time, she’s got this area of the store. The business has always had a strong reputation for basics, and this is also something we want to grow.
So new category extensions?
Absolutely and it’s going to grow even further into FY18. The other new category that we trialed over Christmas was sleepwear. We had a fantastic result and in summer, we also launched swimwear. If you were sitting in one of our stores in summer, you would see a different mix. But they’re categories we were exploring more. We know that in all the right locations, across Australia, this is the right size store to deliver what we need.
There are some key VM features of The Clubhouse. What are your favourites?
I think our fitting rooms are the most photographed fitting rooms of any retailer. We actually have what we call ‘Bestie Fits’, because we know our girls shop together. They are double sized rooms. If you actually see the girls, they come in with their girlfriends or their mum. They want to hang out and we want them to hang out, we encourage it. There’s also the Girl Gang code we have at the front of our store. If you want to be part of The Clubhouse, you need to follow the code, which has things like “I promise to support her dream of becoming Beyonce”. What is also important here is also our messaging, we have screens in the store. Our girl is a screen girl. It will play our latest campaign or show our Instagram activity.
What have you done in that social media space?
Well actually, one of the most interesting stats about the brand is our Instagram performance. Not only have we got the right product mix in the business, delivered a store size that’s really important to us and a store design that talks to the girl, what we’ve also been doing is going those social channels. They’re absolutely critical to the turnaround of this brand. Instagram when we started had 38,000 followers, it’s got around 320,000 now. That continues to grow and that’s why our screens up there, because it reinforces the Instagram and following. We’ve grown our digital database by 73% on the previous year and our Snapchat gets around 5000 views per snap. We’re driving these numbers in stores and online. Our eCommerce platform growing 95% over the last three years, so that’s quite substantial and it is our biggest store.
One of the first strategies you spoke about when you took over was upgrading that platform. How has it developed?
We relaunched the platform about two years ago and it’s been incredibly successful. There will be upgrades to that as we go on. It will continue to be our biggest store. We know that older girls shop online and we know that the younger girls love being in the store. We know that 18- year-olds love being in store and it’s a social thing – 85% of our customers under the age of 18 shop in-store. Whereas over the age of 24, it comes down to 60%.
What is the key demographic you’re hitting now?
We know that our core girl is anywhere between 17 and 22. In saying that, we also have a younger girl. What we’re delighted by is that now mum is coming into our environment. We know it’s generally around that magic age when her daughter is around 10 and transitioning out of childrenswear. So we have size 4 and XXXS all the way up to XL and size 16. A young girl can come in and buy our products.. When mum loves you, when the daughter loves you, that’s a good position to be in.
You mentioned South Africa earlier. When did you decide to expand that footprint internationally?
The Group country manager came out, we took him through our business and he believed the brand would resonate in South Africa. As a management team, we went to South Africa around 18 months ago and we started talking about possibilities and working with landlords then. Part of working in unison with each other was appointing a country manager specifically for Supre, Amanda Phillips.
How did you decide launch locations?
The launch locations were very much determined by the country managers. We know we want to open another eight stores in FY18 and then another 10 stores after that. It’s a really interesting conversation because they have great buy-in to the operating calender, to the range, to the price points, to the offer. Amanda will go through the range sheets and say no, yes, need more of this. It’s very tailored to her market and she’s very proactive in weekly reporting of what’s working and what’s not working.
Are there any interesting differences in terms of ranging or pricing?
I can tell you something right now. The top 20 is the same in New Zealand, as it is in Australia, as it is in South Africa. That’s on a country level. The only difference is that Chadstone will have a different top 20 to what Ballarat will. So that’s where you see the localised difference. That’s where we have a merchandising manager. That’s quite unique to the Cotton On Group. We have a merchandise manager who works with all of the state teams on really understanding the profile per store. That means tailoring to that store portfolio and making sure that top-sellers are well replenished. To make sure we’re capitalising on local store needs.
How does that work at a structural level?
The great thing about the Cotton On Group is the replenishment system. It’s a pull system not a push system. As stores sell something, they receive the replenishment. They will each have a template of allocation and then the stock is actually replenished instead of getting everything.
You recently partnered with South East Asian eCommerce platform Zalora. Can you tell me about that?
The Zalora partnership came about because, as a Cotton On Group brand, we have a licensing department. Licensing is in a number of countries, Middle East, Philippines, Indonesia. It’s constantly morphing, they have a big job.
So you license to other partners?
Well for example, in the Middle East we work with Sharaf Group. From a brand perspective, we still have complete control but they are essential to our people on the ground. It’s a way of opening channels that we wouldn’t be able to otherwise. There are certain restrictions and challenges that are best left with local experts.
What was the story behind Zalora?
Zalora came about because of the entrepreneurialism that runs through the lifeblood of the organisation. The licensing team saw what we were doing with the Supre brand, and they approached us believing it could be a great opportunity with Zalora. Zalora met with us and we launched with them with last October. That’s a really nice business and one that we think we can really grow. That taps us into the Singapore market, the Philippines. They have slightly different needs because of the size of that website and all of the brands that they have there. It’s been really positive and I know they’re coming out very soon and we’ll work through the business plan together with them.
How are their needs different?
Sometimes they want things a bit more dressed up because, denim shorts are denim shorts. They’ve probably got a fair bit of that already on their existing sites. Also sizing, their demographic is certainly a smaller size.
Supre also went global for the launch of its Foundation this year.
The thing we’re really proud of is we actually went to market with it. It was not a head office decision. We went to our Australian, New Zealand and South African teams and asked where we could make the most impact. In Australia, what came through was the importance of mental health issues and a real focus on bullying. In New Zealand, it was around the country having the highest rate of female youth suicide in any OECD country. Then in South Africa, they told us their girls can’t go to school everyday because they don’t have sanitary aid. So we’ve launched a partnership with Headspace in Australia to address our issues. In New Zealand, it’s with the Graeme Dingle Foundation. In South Africa, we’re working with Dignity Dreams, who actually make reusable sanitary underpants.
You’ve achieved a lot in the past few years. Where to now?
The next five years is about rolling out. There’s great opportunity in the Australian marketplace to actually expand. We’ve only got 97 stores in Australia. There are more stores we can have here, so it is about looking at growth opportunities. We’re everywhere from Warrnambool to Darwin to Shepparton and we are underpinned by a great team. We’re 98% female we’ve got 660 team members. You see the enthusiasm, because we believe in taking on those opportunities.