Why these retailers are thriving in a challenging retail climate

While the Aussie retail industry is going through a really tough time at the moment, there are still retailers out there that are innovative, inspiring, forward thinking and breaking new ground.

A new report from Vend, in collaboration with the National Retail Association (NRA), shines a light on these retailers with a focus on their innovative in-store experiences, community spirit and sustainability efforts, as well as their use of technology to power growth across all aspects of their operations.

Dave Scheine, Vend managing director of APAC is excited about the launch of Remarkable Retailers in Australia.

“These retailers inspire us with their resilience, courage, incredible commitment and their ability to find new solutions and ways of working to thrive in a challenging retail landscape."

Indeed, Australia’s independent retailers are defying the odds with $2.44 billion worth of goods sold over the past year with an average spend of $48 per transaction. Compared to other markets this equates to a quarter more than the UK (23 per cent) and over a tenth more than New Zealand (12 per cent). Also, retailers from NSW were the best performing in Australia, followed by Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia.

So what makes a Remarkable Retailer? “It’s someone who respects their community, their customers, and the Australian environment, who is passionate about what they do and who brings genuine excitement into their customer experience,” says NRA CEO, Dominique Lamb.

For Pigeonhole founder, Johann Kim, who launched his first store in Perth, it has always been about pushing the boundaries as an independent retailer and he has always had a growth mindset, despite the economic conditions.

“It has always been a huge challenge being a national company yet privately owned with no investment,” he explains.

“Our company has literally been grown predominantly by the youthful passion of a team of 20-somethings who champion our values and our quest for beautiful and fun things from around the globe.”

Kim believes Pigeonhole was at the forefront of the pop-up shop wave, proving that a nimble and flexible model is not just sustainable but necessary.

“Our one-stop-shop mindset is now one that is widely adopted by stores across the country. Moving forward we are looking for more collaborative models of retail. Working closer with our suppliers and makers, and rediscovering a sense of community and place and meaning in a rapidly digitised world. This may mean seeing more varied concepts in our stores, more brand partnerships, store in store models, events and activations.

“I strongly believe that retail has meaning when it comes back to a more grassroots level of one on one customer experience, a compelling and relatable brand story and a broader community focus,” Kim adds.

Another Remarkable Retailer is Lucy Given, whose store LUC Design has successfully integrated systems and adopted new technology, linking the online store directly to the physical store’s POS system.

“Our website and accounting package are linked back as well,” she adds. “We also have a monthly turnover that is significantly higher than the state and national average, so we must be doing something right as a retailer, in a difficult retail climate.”

However, Given admits that survival is her main goal at the moment. “The doom and gloom we hear about the larger retail stores suffering (nationally and globally) is an obvious concern for me―I am not blind to the fact that this industry is very challenging, so being successful in a difficult time is gratifying.

“For me it has been about continuously evolving my business. Evolving how I operate, who I represent, who I collaborate with. Adaptability is an important part of business growth and Vend and the online integrations I have made have allowed me to do just that.”

Given is looking to expand her business into a larger space in the next 12 months, and she is looking forward to creating new collaborations. “Our own small homewares range LUCASA is doing well, and we hope to expand the brief to other designs and get the Tasmanian brand name out there.”

Over the past four years LUC Design has won many awards including the gia visual merchandising award in Chicago, proving that being regional―the store is located in Hobart, Tasmania―doesn’t have to detract from being successful.

Given says she would love to see Tasmanian design be as recognisable and distinctive in its quality as Danish or Scandinavian design. “We have the skills, the artisans and the growing opportunity for that to happen.

“Tasmania punches well above its weight in the wine and food industry, so my dream is to elevate the design from our state with the same level of respect and recognition.

“I have been fortunate enough to have been given a platform to make that dream more achievable.

“Having systems that do the hard work for me has allowed me to spend more time providing the perfect customer experience, and perfecting that customer experience is what smaller retailers need to do to survive and compete with online stores and global shopping habits,” she adds.