Swimwear brand dives into multi-branded game

PAUL_KOTRBA_SEAFOLLY_CEOSeafolly’s new CEO, Paul Kotrba, says maintaining the heritage swimwear brand’s market-leading status and international expansion fuelled by a new e-commerce platform are on the cards for 2018.

In January, the ex-DKNY executive was appointed as the brand’s CEO, to help the 42-year old Australian retailer’s ambitions of further developing its global growth potential.

Originally from Vienna, Austria, Kotrba spent over 15 years in New York City at Donna Karan and DKNY during the period of ownership under LVMH, where he lead the execution of the groups’ commercial growth strategy across the US, Europe, Middle East and Asia.

Founded in 1975 by Peter & Yvonne Halas, Seafolly had been led by Anthony Halas from 1998 when he became CEO, and subsequently grew the business across several international markets in Europe, North America and Asia. In 2014, L Catterton Asia acquired 70 per cent share of Seafolly, with the remaining 30 per cent staying within the Halas family.

Inside Retail recently caught up with the swimwear brand’s new CEO, to catch up on the Aussie retailer’s latest initiatives.

Inside Retail: What does your appointment mean for the company’s management structure?

Paul Kotrba: I am working closely with the current management team on quickly orienting to the business, understanding the current strategy and the plans in place. There are no immediate changes to the structure other than the handover with Phil Richards, the interim chief transformation officer, who has been leading the team since last March, 2017.

IR: What prompted the appointment?

PK: At the time of the L Catteron investment, the business had already made significant inroads towards the goal of being the world’s most iconic lifestyle swimwear brand. Seafolly’s previous CEO, Anthony Halas transitioned to a non-executive role on the board early last year. The CEO appointment has been imminent for some time with the goal to find the right candidate who can also lead the international expansion of the brand.

IR: What are plans for the business, in terms of short and long term ambitions?

PK: A long term focus for the business is to maintain our leadership position in the home market whilst driving our successful expansion strategy in key international markets: US, Europe and Asia in retail and in wholesale. Developing a strong infrastructure within the company to support rapid international growth and distribution will be key. We are yet to scratch the surface in China and wider Asia which is where a huge amount of opportunity lies for Seafolly. Together with L Catterton and in lieu of the recent acquisition of Maaji in April 2017, our intent is to create the ultimate multi-brand destination, a Sephora of beach lifestyle. We believe the multi-brand strategy is what Asia requires and we see a clear opportunity to take this space.

IR: Any initiatives on the cards for 2018?

PK: We are gearing up to launch a new online platform in the next couple of months which will transform our online experience in Australia, US and Singapore to further develop sales in these markets, as well as others in the future. The re-platforming of our own direct-to-consumer e-commerce due to go live March 2018 will enable Seafolly to become more agile and us to work closer with third party e-com players using a marketplace model. The team has also reacted to new competition with increased capability and frequency of rolling out exceptional capsule collections; the first one being our 80s inspired Flashback range which launched in select stores and online the week of Australia Day. This is a great example of how we are working on speed to market in retail and wholesale partners to bring newness to Seafolly customers, faster. Off the success of the Faces of Seafolly campaign in Australia late last year, where women who embraced the Seafolly spirit were invited to become a Face of Seafolly, we are rolling this initiative into the US market to help drive brand awareness and new customer acquisition there.

Seafolly’s store at Pacific Fair on the Gold Coast

IR: What is the strength of the Seafolly brand? How is it received overseas?

PK: I think our point of difference is our quality; our swimwear actually fits and lasts for more than a summer. It is supportive and empowering for women who lead an active lifestyle in and around the water. And the on-trend prints and bold colours have become a recongisable signature as part of our DNA. The world, including myself, romanticises a lot of things about Australians, in particular the beach culture. There’s just something about the outdoorsy, active yet laidback lifestyle here – it’s easy to see where these aspirational ideals of Australian beach living come from. With 43 years of Australian swimwear experience and a strong reputation overseas, Seafolly is naturally perceived as an authority in beach lifestyle.

IR: How important is heritage appeal?

PK: The times of global uncertainty has fueled a culture of nostalgia, you only have to look at the global trends to see that revivals or echoes of perceived simpler times are back.  Seafolly was born on Bondi Beach in 1975, we are a heritage brand but we are also contemporary. Our extensive archives have served well for our product design and marketing capabilities and I think heritage is incredibly important in storytelling about the spirit of who Seafolly is today.

IR: Are retail conditions any tougher today than other periods?

PK: It is no secret that retail conditions are much tougher in today’s climate where a fundamental shift has taken place. Global availability, digital disruption and an abundance of choices for the customer have inspired us to challenge our old ways of thinking and innovate like never before. On top of that, consumers are looking to spend more on experiences, holidays and dining out than products. This mind-set has created a tough environment for many retailers around the world and Seafolly is no exception to the rule. However, we believe in the consumer facing importance of retail as a place to experience the brand and we have and will continue to be strategic and deliberate about the expansion of future retail channels whilst also ensuring our current wholesale partners grow as we grow.

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