Posts Tagged ‘fashion’

A Swedish flip-flop

May 18, 2010

Fourteen months is a long time in international business.  In March 2009, I quoted a senior figure at Swedish fast-fashion retailer H&M who said:

“We’ve never really opened in a country where they are in a different season.  We are not in South America and although we have one shop in Egypt we are concentrated in Europe and North America, with some shops in Asia.  The next destination is Russia… To go somewhere like Australia, it’s far away from our production offices”.

This week, her boss announced a reversal of this stance:

Hennes & Mauritz AB, Europe’s second- largest clothing retailer, is looking at opening its first store in the southern hemisphere to tap emerging-market growth and catch up with larger rival Inditex SA.

“Brazil and Argentina are very interesting,” Chief Executive Officer Karl-Johan Persson, 35, said in an interview at his Stockholm office, adding that he’s also looked at Australia. The company wants to enter the region at some point after making “sure we can handle it.”

Tellingly, it would seem that there has been some demonstration effect from the firm’s big rivals – Inditex and the Gap – expanding their operations into the lower hemisphere.  H&M are concerned about missing the growth opportunities in this markets.  International Business scholars need to pay close attention to such clustering of expansion behaviour within an industry, as a firm’s location choices (especially when market-seeking) are not independent of their competitors’.

Do I think we’ll be seeing H&M in Aussie shopping strips real soon?  No, I can’t see that we are a major priority for these guys, or Inditex, and I remain unconvinced about the likely scale of Gap’s entry.

Australia will remain an under-internationalised retail sector for years to come.

Why don’t more producers sell on-line?

December 2, 2009

Last week, Aussie surfwear giant Billabong announced they had entered the online retail arena via the acquisition of California-based boardsports website Swell.com.

Swell carries a wide range of brands beyond the Billabong stable. Billabong’s argues “the purchase will allow the company to take advantage of higher margins”. This is certainly logical, but it begs the question why more consumer durable producers have not gone down this path.

Firms like Billabong carry an enormous range of products that are distributed in low quantities to a very dispersed (and individually pretty inconsequential) set of bricks and mortar retailers (presumably via margin-eating middlemen wholesalers). Building a front-end in the online world could give firms a much more direct, more responsive and more lucrative customer interface. One can imagine Billabong offering exclusive and limit-edition ranges through the Swell store, and also tapping into more insightful customer preference data.

The challenge resides in the perceived channel conflict. Will other retailers feel threatened by the firm as a competitor (leading to them cutting back purchases)? While Billabong feel restricted in its pricing at Swell?

Likewise, there may be hostility from competitor brands. Will these firms still want to offer product to Swell, given Billabong will be earning a big chunk of their profits?

Billabong have done a smart thing in buying a firm with proven technology, a functioning back-end and known brand rather than going alone with such forward integration.

What are some other examples of such moves in the e-commerce space? And have they worked?

From Threadless to Shredless?

January 13, 2009

This post was prompted by one from Steve over at Startup Blog. He suggested that surfwear (in particular board shorts) might be a fertile product market for a Threadless-like innovation.

For those of you unfamiliar with Threadless, it is a crowd-sourcing community where designers load up prospective t-shirt designs which are voted upon by the public with the most popular then made available for sale through the same website. There is an excellent discussion of its growth and appeal here. The firm has been a huge success. Based on the numbers mentioned in that article, the site is selling upwards of 5000 t-shirts a day, at a margin of 33% or more.

 

The business model makes an enormous amount of sense. Each new design has a limited run and has already been tested with the likely consumers (i.e. they have voted for them). The basic inputs and production processes are very standardised (blank t-shirts, screenprinting) while the more costly input (designs) have been sourced out to providers who are prepared to do the hard work on spec (presumably because the exposure to consumers, or community, happens whether or not their designs are winners).

As with e-commerce generally, the firm saves big bucks by not needing/supporting a “bricks and mortar” retail and distribution network. It also avoid most marketing costs through that wonder of community-based websites – word of mouth.

Here’s a video explaining more about Threadless: Vodpod videos no longer available.

So turning to boardshorts, could a similar model work?

boardiesIt certainly would need a lot of tweaking. I have no doubt that folks could come up some great and innovative designs and outperform the folks at Ripcurl, Billabong etc. But the issue is more to do with the business model.

Boardies are typically made from a microfibre polyester which is much more difficult to screenprint onto than cotton. Any design competition would probably need to be for the fabric print itself.

Now this is not impossible. There is at least one site that runs such a poll – Bonbonkakku. And Spoonflower offers custom printing. But, again, both are onto cotton, not polyester, and neither seem overly cost effective.

Running with new fabric designs as part of the model seems highly problematic, as this would necessitate large product runs, meaning the site would need to bare the risk of excess stock (and thus push up prices to protect against this risk). It would require a certain level of scale (in terms of consumer awareness, exposure) to be viable too. This contrasts with the much more scalable Threadless model.

Alternatively, the model could work around a palette of available fabrics and generating innovative patchwork style designs. This would require the firm to have access to good assembly (i.e. sewing) facilities. And the pool of prospective designers would presumably drop now (requiring a more specialised set of skills), and site would need to develop some capacity to communicate candidate designs effectively (3D rendering?, rotating images?). The big danger is that the market for these patchworked shorts might be much smaller too (surfers don’t usually want seams that rub).

As you can see, I am intrigued by the prospect of adapting the Threadless model, but I am not certain boardshorts are the right product. I am keen to hear your feedback. What have I missed in my discussion? How could this work more effectively?