Final lifeline for Pumpkin Patch?

First published in New Zealand Herald 25 March 2015

The recent talk of a Pumpkin Patch takeover feels like a lucky lifeline and possibly the company’s last chance for survival.

Profit may have gone up from $106,000 in 2014 to $749,000 in 2015, but the company is a very long way from the highs of 2009 when EBIT was $22.6 million.

Year after year, Pumpkin Patch sales have declined and not just steadily but rather dramatically.

I’ve written about them in the past, wondering whether the brand still had a future or if its time had come. Here in Australia – their largest market – the retailer’s performance is mediocre. If Pumpkin Patch is to survive, it needs to make Australia work.

In light of the takeover talks, I thought I’d imagine what a successful comeback might look like for the children’s retailer. Could Pumpkin Patch rise up from the ashes and surprise us all?

This late in the game it would take a massive overhaul to rescue them. With the right backer and the lights about to go out, the desperation may just result in positive action.

Over the last few years, Pumpkin Patch has cited many external factors for its decline. Various CEOs have attributed losses to poor economic conditions, high cotton prices, restrictive leases, Middle East instability and natural disasters.

But how critical and brutally honest have they been about what’s inside the organisation? Is it all because of the recession or have they simply stopped making products that people want to buy?

Parents’ tastes have changed. If you look around at Australian and New Zealand children’s wear you’ll see a mini-me look of latest fashions, hence the frequent extension of adult clothing brands into kids wear.

Far less sparkles and froth. More limited colour palette and simplicity. Even department stores like Target stock more of this grown up look. (And I don’t mean inappropriate grown up style, but just a more classic design.)

About five ago, ex-employees of Pumpkin Patch shared their gripes with me and said they felt new ideas and suggestions were ignored by then-management. There was a perception that young designers with ideas that didn’t toe the line, were walked out of the organisation.

Whether this was true or not, perception is everything. And if staff don’t believe in the company direction, what hope do they have to convince customers?

Imagine if Pumpkin Patch had a fresh team (or just an empowered team) who sat down with a blank page and said, “Right, what do people want to buy for their kids and what can we create that brings this customer along for the great new Pumpkin Patch journey?”

My gut feel is this would mean a total product redesign, smaller stores, hugely consolidated product lines, slightly higher prices but a complete experience that justifies that. Young designers and illustrators producing new looks and limited edition runs of beautiful clothing for kids. Quality fabrics and quality production. Unique collaborations with funky young brands like I Love Ugly.

You know what I mean, just different, fresh, new, slightly off-beat. That thing New Zealand does so well.

Come on Pumpkin Patch. Take the risk and do something dramatic! We all want to see you succeed again.

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