Australian womenswear brand Bardot is set to expand its global wholesale footprint and open new concept stores.
This is following a challenging three years that began with the brand plunging into voluntary administration in 2019.
The brand is now on a new growth plan after it relaunched as a pure play retailer in 2020 - at the crux of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In conversation with Ragtrader, CEO Basil Artemides revealed that Bardot's wholesale business continues to generate a higher turnover compared to eCommerce.
"We do have a strong presence in bricks and mortar through wholesale," he said. "I think you have to be present in the marketplace. I'm not the person that thinks you should just be eComm."
In Australia, Bardot is represented at both Myer and David Jones. It also launched a collaboration with The Iconic recently in an integrated dropship model.
Internationally however, the brand operates a larger wholesale footprint than Australia, particularly in the US. Bardot supplies department stores such as Nordstroms, Bloomingdales and Dillards.
The brand is also stocked in departments stores across Canada and in European wholesalers such as ASOS in the UK.
Artemides said this strength in wholesale is buoyed by a robust sales team, especially now as trade shows across the world are back on the agenda.
“Unfortunately, through COVID, we couldn't really do trade shows because they didn't exist,” he said. “But now that they're all back up and running internationally, we'll actually start doing the trade shows again, in addition to our selling trips.
“We have a strong wholesale team, headed by our wholesale manager. They travel four times a year to show our ranges. That's the basis of where we see new customers.”
Artemides said Bardot’s wholesale business is also built through word of mouth across its department stores.
“We just met a couple of large department stores in France,” Artemides revealed. "We've [also] been the dealing with Peek & Cloppenburg in Germany, and another in Poland.”
“[New stockists] approach us as well after having seen us in other department stores.
"But the key trade shows, though, are where we certainly make contact with everybody.”
Aside from its ongoing growth in wholesale, he said Bardot’s eCommerce platforms have also done well through ongoing investment.
“We've put a bit of work into the infrastructure technically,” he continued. "So overall, I think the condition's been pretty remarkable, given the circumstances of firstly, the voluntary administration, and then secondly, the COVID period."
Currently, the business comprises both Bardot and Bardot Junior labels, with two separate websites in Australia. It also operates a standalone website in the USA, with Bardot Junior set to launch separately at the end of October.
In Australia, Bardot also has two retail stores in both Chapel Street, Melbourne, and at the company's head office in Abbotsford.
The brand will launch additional sites next year, with a focus on creating flagship destinations in major capitals such as Melbourne and Sydney.
“We're looking at Melbourne to begin with, and we're starting discussions around where we position those stores going forward," Artimedes said.
While denim continues to be a strong category for the business, Artemides said dresses and occasion-wear sales are accelerating.
“When we were a bricks and mortar store, we typically had a much bigger casual section,” he said. “Now we're much more focused on occasion-wear.
“For both Bardot and Bardot Junior, the concept is to come to us when you're going to an occasion.”
Artemides said price points have also shifted as part of the brand's evolution.
“Our average price point in dresses is now around about $189 - slightly higher than we were as a retailer,” he continued. “We focus on a slightly different demographic these days.
“My wife Carol is the founder and the designer, and it allows her that ability to design what she wants in ecommerce… without the commercial rules that the bricks and mortar often plays.
“And I think that's represented in the expansion of the dress category; denim has always been a strong legacy category for us.
"Our prices have moved up to reflect that.”
Future outlook and logistics
With a consolidated team of 30 staff, Bardot has a number of projects planned across its 2023 roadmap.
In particular, Artemides said Bardot will soon be replatforming all four of its websites in a “big tech project” as it transitions from its previous business model.
“It's really exciting to gain that different direction. We've been a commercial retailer that had a broad footprint of 100 stores, and now we're this wholesale pureplay that can dictate our designs and how we please."
Artemides said wholesale channel growth has continued to develop, despite the logistical challenges many retailers have faced during the pandemic.
"One of the key problems we had was just delays in logistics. And then clearly with the closure of Shanghai for two months, that definitely affected some of those key European markets.
“Given that we are a wholesaler, a lot of our supply moves from our manufacturing bases in China, India and Vietnam. We moved that stock to the US, in our biggest market."
Artemides said that the pressure in logistics has eased this half, with supply chains returning to normal for the brand.
The company expects to see a reversal of wholesale inventory lag in the first quarter of next year.
“A lot of that has now been factored into the bars going forward,” Artemides continued. “We're looking for a really strong last quarter.
“I think 2023/2024 is going to be a very good year for us, given that we've survived the supply chain in terms of logistics.”
As well as navigating logistics, Artemides said that the other challenge for retailers is staffing in key offshore hubs.
“We tended to find that in America in particular, staff became a big issue through the logistics hubs,” he said. “I think that's still being felt and will only clear up in the next three to four months.”
With inventory levels causing concern due to port closures, Artemides believes retailers will discount stock in the lead up to Christmas to clear pathways for 2024.
“[Retailers will] attempt to ensure their inventories are at the right level coming out into January,” he said. “I think the effects will be in that first quarter. And then, thereafter, it'll be fine as things stabilise.
“Certainly from an actual manufacturing perspective, we are up-to-date now. The ports in China have all cleaned up, and they are all leaving on time.
“It's just about that inventory lag now, which I don't think will take too long.”
Despite these challenges, Artemides said the business has emerged stronger due to tight cost controls and increased spending during lockdown.
“We actually got a bit of a bump in sales through that period, because everyone was at home. So, from an eCommerce perspective, it was quite successful.
“Now obviously, expanding into different markets is the key going forward for us. Because, with eCommerce, it's a bit easier to reach those markets effectively.”