Icebreaker: Conveying purpose through stories, staff and stores

Icebreaker sales staff visit a merino station at Lake Heron. Source: Supplied.

This is the second article in a two-part series about Icebreaker’s pivot to being a purpose-led business.

Click here to read the first part about how the retailer sees purpose and profit as creating a positive feedback loop. Part two is about the latest developments in the retailer’s purpose-led strategy.

Fifteen years ago, Icebreaker’s product creation and design teams moved to Portland, Oregon, in the US, following growth in the business. Since then, Icebreaker has quadrupled in size.

Recently, the decision was made to bring the design team closer to the brand’s merino growers, and this year, the team returned to Icebreaker’s headquarters in Auckland.

This move builds on the past and creates positive change for the future.
Today, Icebreaker works with 75 contracted merino stations in partnership with the New Zealand Merino company, which reinforces the product design principles and brand DNA.

The importance of storytelling

As digital native brands move into bricks-and-mortar, direct-to-consumer brands look to expand into wholesale and businesses with a typical wholesale model shift to direct-to-consumer, omnichannel retailing has become the norm.

For Icebreaker, omnichannel retailing is about understanding how and where consumers want to interact with the brand, and then ensuring it delivers the best possible experience in that environment.

The retailer is in a strong position with a well-balanced business across not only digital and physical but also wholesale and direct-to-consumer sales. It’s important to understand that each has a role to play now and into the foreseeable future.

Having a connection and relationship with a brand isn’t just about a good loyalty program, it’s much deeper than that. It’s how Icebreaker helps customers understand who it is, what it stands for and how they can be part of Icebreaker and the movement it’s trying to create.

“Storytelling has always been the best way to do this for Icebreaker whether it’s about telling our own or sharing others and the mediums available to do this now are wide,” McNab said.

The stories could be about products, adventures or causes, but they all reflect who the brand is and enable customers to connect with the brand at a deeper level to be part of something bigger.

Southern Chronicles, a blog curated by Icebreaker, is a great example of this. It is packed full of bite size “real” stories that reflect who the business is.

Some things you might not know about Icebreaker

Icebreaker has a grassroots, employee-run sustainability group in the office called the ‘Sheep Dogs’ that brings awareness and positive change within the business. They don’t play by a specific set of rules, but instead act on the good ideas from within.

“Icebreaker tends to attract people who are into sustainability, environmentalism and social awareness. The Sheep Dogs are now also part of the induction process, giving everyone the chance to get involved from day one. They’ve been involved in making a load of changes, some small, some not so small,” said McNab.

Some highlights include:

  • Plastic-free awareness month: The team pledged not to bring or use single-use plastic in the office kitchens.
  • Reduced printing: Printers now only print when someone is at the machine and inputs a password. This has cut printing by nearly a third, and eradicated forgotten printed documents.
  • Centralised rubbish: Having a differentiated set of waste bins has increased recycling and composting.
  • Tree-less toilet paper: Alternatives, such as toilet paper made from bamboo and sugar cane, are used to help cut deforestation.
  • Fairtrade and organically grown coffee is used in the office.
  • Retail store video displays at night are turned off at night.
  • Office supplies and cleaning products are chosen that demonstrate sustainability and social benefit credentials.
  • Quarterly documentary movie nights occur to keep people informed.
  • Regular guest speakers come to the office to speak on global and local sustainability topics.
  • Beach clean-ups and tree-planting events occur.
  • Flights to the 2018 vendor summit in Shanghai are carbon off-set.
  • The Endangered Kiwi Breeding Program in the Taranaki region of New Zealand is sponsored.
  • Edible office gardens are planted to give Icebreakers a chance to grow their own food and create an inviting outdoor space.

New store in Queenstown

In May, Icebreaker announced the opening of its new Queenstown store, marking a re-commitment to the region where the brand was born, the spiritual home of Icebreaker.

The new location is the first of Icebreaker’s refreshed store design and features environmentally conscious materials throughout. It reflects the local environment and Icebreaker’s natural brand identity, to create a comfortable, open and welcoming space.

Visitors can relax and enjoy a hot or cold drink, wait for their friends, or pause and plan their next adventure.

“Our new store concept will enable us to present Icebreaker to customers as more than just clothing on racks and instead we can offer a truly memorable experience that those visiting Queenstown retain with them when they return home all over the world,” McNab said.

“I’m extremely excited and proud to have such a fantastic display of who we are in our spiritual home.”

With Icebreaker’s continued commitment to people, planet and purpose, retailers have much to learn from this homegrown success story.


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