Socially conscious footwear brand, Toms, launched in the Australian market in September 2018 with both an online store and a flagship store in Little Collins street in Melbourne's CBD.
Since then, the business has opened another store at Highpoint shopping centre, as well as an outlet store at Uni Hill shopping centre in Bundoora.
Intrigued by how the Australian market is performing for the brand, Shoe Trader editor, Imogen Bailey, spoke to Toms' CEO, Jim Alling as well as the co-founder/CEO of Retail Prodigy Group (RPG) – the Australian distributor of Toms – Steve Younane.
How is the Australian market responding to Toms?
STEVE: Better than expected.
I think the one thing that we were blown away by, as we got to spend more time with the Toms team [and] we got to learn more about the brand [and] its purpose – we were able to meet Blake (Mycoskie - founder of Toms) himself – its a brand that's very easy to fall in love with because [of] its beautiful purpose of giving.
I think what we're finding is that when our team members in our stores are introducing Toms to customers who maybe have not ever heard of the brand, we're finding that the customer seems to gravitate to the brand and wants to learn more about it.
Then from a customer conversion point of view, we're finding the customer likes to transact with us because they know their purchase goes towards giving a pair of shoes to a child in need.
So yeah, better than expected. It's still very early days, [we're still] blind-buying, meaning we're buying for a store that we don't really have much sales data for at this point in time, but we're very happy with the early results we're getting from it.
JIM: I would just add, from our perspective, and what I really wanted to have the chance to see in person, was how the team on the floor in the stores tells the story and [whether] the space itself represent[s] the brand. They've done a beautiful job with the design of the stores and making them appropriate for the neighbourhood or the mall they're in.
Also, the dedication that Steve and the RPG team put to training and training not just on shoes and shoe benefits, but more importantly on the story of Toms [is fantastic].
We made the choice of RPG because they had a tremendous retail reputation in the marketplace but even more importantly than that, for us, was they were very respectful and interested in our story and we recognised that to best tell our story – because it takes some time, you have to actually get engaged with the brand and hear the story – and we recognised retail was the best way to grow our brand, to share our story and then to build that loyalty with customers so we previously did not have that retail expertise here.
So we sought someone we thought could bring it and we thought would be great representatives of our brand and sharing our story.
And the team today – obviously it's early days – but the team to date and how they've approached the launch of the brand has been well beyond our expectations. So [we're] very very pleased about that.
So for me, I just wanted a chance to come and experience [that] with them and also to thank them in person.
Plans for Toms in Australia? Plans for global business?
STEVE: I'll answer the local and then I'll hand over to Jim for the global.
We're finding that having the online store is giving us really rich data and a really rich insight in terms of where the sales are coming from, from a postcode point of view.
I guess not surprisingly, but New South Wales, or Sydney specifically, is over-indexing in terms of sales that we're getting online and so we plan that this year, we'd like to get one or two more stores opened and they would be in Sydney.
And the other market, maybe a little bit more surprisingly, is Perth. We suspect that could be because there's a strong UK contingent living in Perth, so maybe that's what's driving that, not sure.
But look, we would like to, in the next two to three years, be targeting somewhere around 10 to 12 stores in three years' time.
The online store will just go from strength to strength as we continue to build the platform.
Also too, there's a lot of work being done around our customer relationship management (CRM) strategy, mostly around loyalty and also our social marketing as well, mostly via Instagram.
JIM: We have always had our largest market be our home market which is the United States, which it still is and we want to continue to invest there, we've had very strong results on our e-commerce business.
There's been a shift to online shopping across the globe and we've been able to really take advantage of that shift, but at the same time we'd like to build our retail presence in the US, that's our direct store retail presence, and rebuild with some of our wholesale customers who slowed down with us, so that's in the US market.
[We want to continue] the growth in our direct to consumer channels but also rebuild our wholesale channels, which have been down over the last two to three years.
We also want to continue to grow in Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA), which has been growing at double digits for us and that will continue further down the road.
Then here in Asia Pacific region, we are really seeking partners like RPG to help us build out the brand, who understand the local marketplace, have tremendous retail backgrounds, but share the love that we have for the Toms story.