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What Top Performing Retail Brands Do Differently


In my interview on SkyNews Business The Perrett Report last month, I was asked who I thought were the top brands and why.

My answer—Oroton and Aesop—surprised the interviewer, as being in the retail industry they are in a seemingly difficult and competitive market.

Each day news articles report falling profits and store closures in the retail industry. So how do retail businesses create a differentiated ‘white space’ in an overcrowded and competitive marketplace?

The common thread amongst top performing retail companies is that these ‘retail stars’ not only have a clearly articulated vision and strategy, but they continually communicate their brand ‘story’ across the organisation.

This is the difference – employees have to deliver on the brand every day.

If employees understand what makes the brand unique and how they fit into the brand story, then a consistent message is delivered to their customers.

How do retail brands communicate their ‘story’?

There are few brands that have defied the global downturn as well as Oroton—the Australian accessory brand, which “posted a new profit of $16.1M for the six months to January 28, up from $15.4M for the same period in the previous year” (The Sydney Morning Herald, 2012).

CEO Sally Macdonald turned a flagging iconic Australian brand into a retail success story.

Understanding the heritage and history of the brand (founded in 1938), enabled the brand to be rebuilt and repositioned from the inside out.

It had good DNA but had lost focus and forgotten what made Oroton, Oroton.

Part of this repositioning involved redesigning the company structure and focusing on design (products, stores, and service) and on all customer touch points (online and offline).

Oroton today ensures the products are on trend but also on brand—“modern lifestyle brand defined by its relaxed, modern Australian approach to luxury” (Oroton.com, 2012).

While some elements are reflective of other luxury brands (Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Prada), its uniqueness—and differentiation ‘white space’—is the brand’s ‘Australian-ness’.

Also defying the retail industry downward trend is Aesop; the internationally-renown, Australian beauty brand (launched in Armadale in 1987).

“Last year the nation experienced the weakest retail sales growth in 50 years—Aesop’s like-for-like growth in Australia was up 30 per cent.” (smh.com.au, 28 Feb 2012).

The Aesop brand with its pharmaceutical-style brown glass jars and minimalist stores (over 45 worldwide) is another brand that continues to grow by finding its differentiated ‘white space’.

Like Oroton’s CEO, the founder and creative director Dennis Paphitis, created his brand from the inside out.

”There is a system and a method for every process in the company,” says Paphitis. ”From the approved toilet paper used in our bathrooms, through to the way a parcel is wrapped.” Even the finance department, he says, has approved colours it can use for graphs and matrices. Why make something ugly when it can be interesting?” he reasons.

Understanding the brand and communicating this to employees and customers is why Aesop has become the biggest beauty export since Helena Rubenstein in the 1900s.

Their focus has not changed since the beginning. Aesop does not waver from their brand values. Every touch point (products, stores, employees, offices) reflect this and each store opening attracts a long line of brand devotees.

Top 3 lessons to be learned from ‘retail stars’:

  1. Create and articulate the company’s vision and strategy
  2. Create a differentiated brand story to get the foundations in place
  3. Pay attention to all the details around the brand identity – products, stores, service; all the customer touch points.

Following these tips learned from ‘retail stars’ like Oroton and Aesop, will help you build a strong retail brand and be better positioned to defy the odds and achieve growth in a very flat retail environment.

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