Talking shop: Linda Leonard, Postie
Welcome to Talking shop, a weekly series where we interview the head of a New Zealand retail business about their growth plans and challenges, and get their thoughts on the latest business trends.
This week, we’re featuring our interview with Linda Leonard, the chief executive of apparel business Postie.
Inside Retail: What lessons did you learn as Postie’s merchandising director that you expect will serve you well as the business’s new chief executive?
Linda Leonard: Within my role in merchandise we built an incredible understanding of our customer, trialling many approaches and taking on lots of learnings. As a result, we have a very clear picture of who our customer is and what they want – she clearly wants affordable, quality garments that are on trend.
This understanding provides a really solid foundation for me to build on in my new role across the wider business.
The other key lesson for me is that it is important to continue to listen and learn, as change in the retail sector is constant and speeding up all the time, so that’s the approach I will take as I move into my new role.
IR: Are there any new initiatives you are planning on implementing based on this experience?
LL: My initial focus is around engaging the wider team, listening, understanding and taking on board learnings. We have a strong, collaborative team at Postie and a robust strategy, so my focus will be to build on these strengths.
One of the key learnings from my time in merchandise that you can expect to see, is the need to share much more about our ethical and environmental programme with our customers. We have a full audit programme in place and are making good in-roads with regards to environmental issues. We know our customers want to hear more about this, so we will start sharing this journey more openly.
IR: What differences do you see in the Australia and New Zealand markets, and how does Postie aim to cater itself to the two markets?
LL: In terms of how we cater to the two markets, we work from a group perspective.
Although our sister company Best & Less operates within the Australian market and Postie operates within the NZ market, we collaborate on product which allows us to leverage volume from a sourcing perspective, while still tailoring options to the specific customer needs in each market.
The key difference between the two markets is certainly seasonality, with the cooler temperatures in New Zealand resulting in a need for more layering pieces, knitwear and jackets.
IR: With the growing importance of retailers having a strong e-commerce and omnichannel strategy, what does Postie intend to do over the next 12-18 months to improve this facet of the business?
LL: We have taken big strides ahead in this area and building a strong foundation in the e-commerce space has been an important strategic focus over the past 18 months. Our platform is now well integrated into our core operating systems and has capability designed to help us to improve the e-commerce experience for customers.
We have seen strong growth to date from our e-commerce store with FY 18 delivering sales growth of 180 per cent on the previous year.
For the coming 12-18 months we will shift into a future focused approach, enabling more seamless shopping experiences across channels and communication with customers will be more aligned to their personal needs and wants.
IR: We’ve started seeing more international brands begin selling direct to New Zealanders, opening local stores or e-commerce sites. What are your thoughts on this? From a consumer perspective, as well as a competitor’s perspective?
LL: When I first moved to New Zealand 16 years ago, I found it a bit of a shock to the system that the retail market was so small. It has moved a long way since then and personally I am very happy to have more choice available in the market, and I’m sure many Kiwis feel the same.
Stiff competition is consistent within this marketplace; we have some very strong local retailers and over the last few years all retailers have had to lift their game to survive in tough trading conditions.
As new entrants hit the New Zealand market, it’s important that local retailers like us continue to really listen to customers and tailor our offer to them better than our global competitors could do.
IR: Does Postie have plans to further push bricks-and-mortar locations in the coming 12-18 months?
LL: When it comes to our store network, our key focus is to be in the right locations, so we frequently review our network, assessing each store location as well as exploring new opportunities on a case by case basis.
As part of this network review, it is very exciting that our new store in Whanganui is scheduled to open this month.
IR: What do you think of the current state of bricks-and-mortar retail compared to what’s being offered online?
LL: Experiences vary widely from site to site and shop to shop; you can have a great experience in store and poor online, and vice versa. Retailers need to keep a clear vision on the fact that experiences need to be more seamless and consistent.
We also need to learn from what’s happening overseas, and build strategies to deal with the changing retail environment in this market. In many cases, bricks-and-mortar retail has suffered as a result of the changing shopping habits of consumers (the speed of this change has been phenomenal) and we often hear about stores closing.
Another factor influencing bricks-and-mortar retail is the high rent expectations of many landlords – rent can simply be unrealistic in an environment where more and more customers choose the ease of online shopping.
IR: What has changed in the business, if anything, since Greenlit Brands purchased the brand out of administration in 2014?
LL: The biggest change was the transition in May 2017 to an ‘everyday low price’ model, where over a two week period we repriced a million units of stock, totally reset our in-store offer and our marketing campaigns.
The strategic focus around bringing Postie back to relevance required a complete reset of the business offer and as a result the business was restored to profitability in 2018.
IR: Any advice to other retail executives?
LL: Always keep customers’ needs at the centre of each business decision.
If you run a New Zealand retail business and would like to be featured in our Talking shop series, please contact the editorial team.
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