One Australian business that’s taken innovative steps to develop their exports is aussieBum. It’s the cheeky Australian brand taking on the global market for men’s fashion, from the bottom up. Founder, Sean Ashby, is so confident of ongoing success he believes it’ll be the next Quicksilver or Victoria’s Secret on the scale of world brands.
Taking me through the business, Ashby’s enthusiasm is contagious each time he shows me a “really cool thing”, a phrase he uses a lot! All these things really are cool, thanks to his innovative marketing and business strategy.
But its humble beginnings weren’t so cool for aussieBum. Ashby designed his first range of men’s swimwear in 2001 and invested his $20,000 life savings into launching the business. He was met with instant rejection. Australia’s major department stores didn’t want to know him, claiming the brand would never take off. Little did they know aussieBum would grow to be a multi-million dollar company in just five years, would continue to grow by 20 percent every quarter, and be so stable that if their sales dropped by half tomorrow the business would still be profitable. It’s pretty comforting for Ashby and co-owner Guyon Holland, who joined aussieBum in 2003 to implement the business systems that would complement Ashby’s creative and strategic endeavours.
And most of that comfort factor is thanks to the business’s exports. Currently, around 90 percent of aussieBum’s business is in international sales and they now sell into 75 countries.
Not bad considering the local major retailers didn’t want anything to do with him in the early days. Given their resolute dismissal of his product, it would have been easy for Ashby to throw up his hands and walk away, but he’s not one to shy away from a challenge. “So it was really a case of, ‘I’m going to prove you wrong’. I had a big chip on my shoulder, and that real spirit of, let’s just look at this again and find a solution. So rather than have the retailer as the hurdle to get to the consumer, I decided to find a way to get to the consumer directly.”
Ashby had little choice but to take his business online, instantly opening it up to international markets, taking the first overseas internet order from the UK not long after it launched online. “It was one order one day, then two orders the next day, and it just grew. Now we’re talking thousands of orders a day.”
But it wasn’t as simple as that. The attraction to aussieBum’s range (which now also includes underwear, leisurewear, sportswear, and loungewear) lies in its high quality and Australian-owned and manufactured status. Ashby pushes the brand by selling not only the products but also the Australian way of life. And by manufacturing locally, it helps eliminate any import restrictions incurred by some countries if the products were manufactured in China.
Direct Customer Deals
Ashby and Holland have also employed some clever strategies to grow the business. For starters, aussieBum deals directly with their customers, whether they’re major department stores overseas or individuals purchasing direct from the website. This enables the company to limit their distribution and make their range exclusive to flagship-type stores such as Selfridges in the UK. By giving these retailers exclusivity over the brand, it allows aussieBum to stay in control of the price and ensures payment before delivery isn’t questioned. “We use the department stores more as advertising beacons,” explains Ashby. “So, a person walks into a department store, they see these amazing displays everywhere and they buy the product and see on the tag aussiebum.com and they’ll go online.” He says it also encourages other big buyers who see these displays to want in on the hype around the brand.
They’ve said ‘no’ to more overseas retailers than they’ve said ‘yes’ to, which is not only part of the business’s marketing strategy but is also a way to control growth. “We’ve built these very strong foundations and we don’t allow any one business to take any level of control or share of our business so that we can’t afford to get rid of them,” explains Ashby.
While the original export plan for aussieBum was to grow organically, it has also become quite strategic. By having an online base, aussieBum are able to launch into new overseas markets not by hunting down new stores to sell their brand but by encouraging demand. If they already have a small market of consumers in one country buying direct from the website, aussieBum launches an extensive advertising and public relations campaign in that market. Because the business makes more money from selling direct to the consumer than through stores, spending more on direct advertising encourages more people to buy from the website, as well as encouraging consumers in that market to go hunting in local department stores. Once demand is established, stores contact aussieBum to place an order. And as Ashby explains, the stores themselves provide another level of indirect advertising. “Because of the strategic way we’ve brought the product into the market, [the retail stores] are on the back foot and they have to buy it because we’ve got a market there,” Ashby says.
Given the higher return on direct sales to consumers, and the origins of the business, the aussieBum website is central to everything the company does in terms of marketing and selling their product, which is why the website’s URL is on the label of every aussieBum product. “The internet site has given us the leverage to be seen overseas. We’re inviting customers to visit Australia or our shop [online]. And why buy it from a shop for $80 when you can buy it from us direct for $19?” says Ashby. “When they buy fzrom us direct, all the data is brought in and our customer database grows and then we know how to market to them more effectively.”
AussieBum launched their new, multilingual international website in March this year, and as Ashby takes me through all the “really cool” features on the website, it’s no wonder it has proved a significant tool for developing exports even further—both in terms of the front end (what the consumer sees) and the back-end functionality of the site.
As Ashby explains, aussiebum.com is much more than simply an e-commerce website selling product. It’s about building the brand, linking it with the Australian lifestyle and offering some added value such as the Auslife section which features articles, movie trailers and reviews, which are updated daily and promote customer feedback. “It’s very interactive,” he says.
A key advantage to the business is everything on the website, including all the back-end software, has been developed in-house, which offers huge flexibility when they’re needing to update the site or track the number and search the patterns of visitors to the site. “This is where our biggest strength is. While we’ve created a beautiful front-end and all the technology, we are very much ‘big brother’. We know everything that’s going on. We know where people are on the site, where they’re coming from, what they’re looking at, and what they’re not.” The website is so sophisticated it can track what product a person has been looking at, and when they’re in different parts of the website it’ll bring those products back into play. “One of the arguments [against online] is, if you’re an internet site how can you be something to everyone all at once? Well, we’ve mastered the challenge of being able to be something to every individual,” Ashby boasts.
All information and orders coming through th
e website link up with a number of software programs aussieBum uses to identify exactly who their customers are, where they’re from and how much they’re spending, right down to their personal characteristics—all for the purpose of identifying trends and being able to target their marketing more effectively. “Customer relationship marketing is the buzz word at the moment, and so with ours, for example, when a person places an order we ask them for feedback, such as where did you see us, what did you like, what don’t you like, what would you change. We also ask some really simple things like date of birth, which then drills us down to their star sign, which drills us down to their personality, and that allows us to cross reference it against the product, against the location,” he explains. “So, we know our average customer is an Aries, they live on the coast, they travel on holidays if they go away, they normally buy clothing two weeks before they leave, and they normally spend between $80 and $100.”
To complement and draw on the marketing and customer software, Ashby uses a campaign manager program, developed in-house, to search their 200,000-strong database for particular customers whose details correlate with the business’s latest campaign or product launch. Literally in minutes, Ashby searches for a particular group of customers, uploads the latest online campaign brochure, attaches it to an email and starts sending it out to the group—direct marketing in its most targeted and cost-effective form.
“Pretty much every four weeks we’ve got something new coming out. The speed at which we can get things out is great,” explains Ashby. “For example, I can have an idea today and we can have it on sale in about nine days if we really want to. Because all of our manufacturing is local, we literally can stop our production, we can add in a new component, we can then communicate to all of our customers and we can have a campaign running within 72 hours. So we can take advantage of those short-term opportunities.”
Every quarter Ashby and Holland reassess their strategic business plan. Based on the new data and trends emerging, they can determine who their customers are and where the business is heading. “Then we’ll focus on who we are and the key messages we want to communicate for the quarter,” say Ashby.
While it seems aussieBum has grown dramatically in such a short period of time—thanks largely to developing exports—Ashby is quick to point out it has all been controlled growth. “We have grown very quickly but we’ve also done it very progressively, so rather than the market dictating to us what it wants (today we’d be turning over $50 million if we went that way) we realised the importance of developing the foundations to be able to distribute to so many countries and, if our business fell in half tomorrow, to still be able to operate profitably.
“The interesting thing is, with businesses like ours, the big end of town look at what we’re doing and go, ‘they can’t be making any money and they can’t be moving anywhere because they’re not in David Jones’. Funnily enough, we’re bigger than a brand like Bonds in the UK, and yet Australians are still waking up to us.”