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Retail lessons from an industry giant

Topshop’s Sydney store opened this week, to the kind of hysteria local retailers can only dream of. We spoke to COO David Shepherd yesterday, who delivered some lessons for small businesses about how delivering the best product is the key to success.

Shepherd is COO of the Arcadia Group, the holding company that owns Topshop and Topman, and has worked with the two brands for 19 years. He’s responsible for overseeing the international expansion of the retail brand, and said Australia is an attractive market for one important reason.

“There is a clientele here for us. People here are interested in fashion – they’re young and vibrant,” he told Dynamic Business.

According to Shepherd, Topshop and Topman’s international success and appeal comes down to its fashion-forward products.

“It’s the product first and foremost. It’s also our speed to market and our reputation in the market. We’re all about fashion, and we deliver unique fashion quickly – every week there are new lines coming out. This is how we stand out among our competitors,” he said.

This focus on delivering great products in a timely fashion is what Topshop, Topman and other international brands like Zara, are doing better than local retailers.

“From my observations over the last couple of days, we’re a little more fashion forward. We’re not about price necessarily, but about the product. Zara’s the same – if you look at their stock, it’s what you’ll find on the High Street in the UK,” he said.

“We take a bit more risk in terms of colour and themes, take a lot of direction from the catwalks but most importantly – we do it quickly. That’s our unique selling proposition – speed to market.”

Lessons for small business

As large retailers in Australia continue to battle with declining revenue and profits, Topshop and Topman are expanding rapidly. According to Shepherd, the brand hopes to open 10-15 stores around the country in the coming years. So, what is Topshop doing that local brands aren’t?

“We market into our customer’s lifestyles. We’re paying a lot of attention to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, because that’s the life our customers live,” he said.

“A few years ago, we didn’t do any advertising online. Now, that’s where the bulk of our dollars go. We still do some print advertising, but we’re more focused on social media and mobile. It allows you to be instantaneous, and that’s what customers want now.”

Another key difference is the retailer’s decision not to see online as a threat, but rather the natural evolution of its business.

“Our mobile commerce division now takes nearly half of all our internet orders, and we choose to look at it as another store. We don’t look at it as a competitor, because it belongs to us,” he said.

As for final words of wisdom for small operators, Shepherd again stressed the need to focus on delivering the best product.

“First and foremost, it’s about the product. You can have great visual merchandise, great windows and great marketing, but if you don’t have a great product, no amount of imagery is going to help you sell it.”


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Lorna Brett

Lorna Brett

Lorna was Dynamic Business’ Social Web Editor in 2011/12. She’s a social media obsessed journalist, who has a passion for small business. Outside the 9 to 5, you’re likely to find her trawling the web for online bargains, perfecting her amateur photography skills or enjoying one too many cappucinos. You can follow her on <a href="https://twitter.com/#!/dynamicbusiness">Twitter @DynamicBusiness</a>

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