Brands to watch | New Zealand Companies in Australia | Trans Tasman | Uncategorized

Could Briscoes inject Kiwi hunger into Aussie retail?


First published in New Zealand Herald 7 July 2015

It’s school holidays in Australia right now and practically half the population is on the move in search of warmth.

Especially the South East Coasters, with a lot of us landing in Queensland. And a lot of us – including myself – asking the same question every year: Why do I choose to live in Melbourne when it’s 21 degrees in and out of the sea in Gold Coast winter?

From this week’s Queensland location, I was going to write a column on how different the Australian States are from one another and to consider this in your strategy.

However two things happened.

First, even more “very Melbourne” restaurants and bars have appeared here on the coast. Just in this little pocket where I’m holidaying in Burleigh Heads, I’ve had dinner at a great, Melbourne-style tapas restaurant. I’ve been served good coffee by heavily-bearded gents from local roasters. Not to mention Robina Town shopping centre seems to have quadrupled in size into a mini Westfield.

And second, Briscoe made a bid to buy Kathmandu.

I’d all but forgotten about Briscoe while living in Australia the last fifteen years. But I’m reminded of its success every time I read the New Zealand papers and visit. The Briscoe team, led by Rod Duke, has turned an ailing business into one of New Zealand’s most successful retailers. It’s an impressive business in any country.

I had a chance to meet some of the management team when I was in New Zealand last year. To get to the boardroom we walked through almost an entire Briscoe store, weaving through customers on a busy retail day. I couldn’t help but think this seems like a management team that’s totally immersed in the day-to-day running of the business and not removed in a satellite office, at a safe distance from customers.

That may not sound like much to go on, but I challenge you to find many CEOs and senior executives who spend their days surrounded by customers. The good ones? Absolutely.

That’s why if I was a Kathmandu shareholder I’d feel chuffed about the Briscoe bid.

Briscoe Group don’t strike me as impulsive risk takers. Despite wanting to bring Briscoe to Australia, they’ve resisted and have taken their time to understand the landscape and wait in the wings for the right opportunity.

There was speculation that Pumpkin Patch may be that opportunity, but I suspect even they saw it as too far gone.

Kathmandu gives them immediate entry into Australia, and will hopefully inject some Kiwi hunger into pretty lackluster Australian retail chains.

That’s not to say that Kathmandu is a guaranteed winner. The brand has good bones, a strong presence and high brand awareness across both sides of the Tasman and in the UK, but there’s still a lot of room to improve.

Sport and active clothing has been fashion friendlier over the last few years, with more blurring of pure active and pure fashion categories. Kathmandu hasn’t done much to capitalise on that trend. And as more niche sport and outdoor retailers jump into the fray with boutique products, it becomes harder for a mid market (really pretty mass market) brand like Kathmandu to differentiate. There’s also the potential to build a greater online channel, which at the moment is only 5.8 per cent of Kathmandu’s total sales.

In any case, even if it’s a strategic play for Briscoe Group to enter Australia and bring that retail business here, Kathmandu could do far worse than have a group with a history of business success like the Briscoe team in the driver’s seat.

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