British retailers continue to seek canny moves abroad into developing markets. Russia, China and even Libya are considered desirable locations in the race to supply and satisfy deep pocketed consumers.
It may come as some surprise that Melbourne, Victoria also has been talked about as a retailing hot-spot for international brands to invest in. Asos, Topshop, Zara and WH Smith have all claimed recent success in Australia’s second city, which is home to many aspirational consumers.
Laura Anderson is determined to ensure that the Australian city of Melbourne becomes an international shop-window for the retail business.
“We’re looking for mid-level brands to invest in Melbourne. Chinese and UK retailers are finding that the microcosm in Victoria is edgy, innovative, creative and inclusive. I find that people are always looking for what’s next. Australia is a window into the Asian market with its geographical position in the new world order,” she says.
After two decades in Australia, she has the straight talking confidence that comes of success in her field.
She began retail life at department stores’ Marshall Fields and Neiman Marcus whilst studying at university before managing a chain of sportswear stores. Anderson then entered technology and has served in influential positions in the supply chain, technology and retail sectors. She has advised Apple, Coca-Cola and Johnson & Johnson and was a non-executive director of the Just Group. Now chairman of the L’Oreal Fashion festival in Melbourne, the second largest fashion festival in the world, she expects 380,000 people to visit next March.
“Melbourne has fresh air, fabulous food, great people and the transport system is one of the reasons it’s so liveable,” she says with sincerity. “There’s something about the education system that produces fantastic results. The labour workforce is educated and is so strong and technology’s a key part of that.”
Laura has been meeting ‘top UK brands’ and the British Retail Consortium in London to discuss opportunities in Melbourne for retailers, and says Melbournians are ready to receive after years of suffering the ‘tyranny of distance’ in the global supply chain.
The city of 4.4m has a strong cultural offering; it contains Anglican and Roman Catholic cathedrals, many fine churches, museums and art galleries. It also plays host to the aforementioned Fashion Festival every March and showcases high-profile sporting events such as the Melbourne Cup, Australian Open and the F1 Grand Prix each year.
What more, Australia’s economic strength is rather outstanding. Coming through the global recession unscathed, Australia has registered 22 successive years of economic growth.
So is it time for British retailers to put up their stores on the cobbled streets of this impressive city full of many fine parks and distinguished public buildings? And can Brits put aside stereotypes of Australia as a homogenous nation whose inhabitants prefer to wear a t-shirt and sandals most days?
Anderson patriotically believes so. “Immigration into the country is massive from all over the world (one in four Melbournians were born overseas). Melbourne is a sophisticated city,” she says. “People are shopping for global brands and they want to be able to shop on the world stage. In terms of customer service generally we’re relaxed. You have some retailers at the very top end who have exacting attention to detail and others who allow you to come in and help yourself. A lot of Australian shoppers don’t like to be bothered by sales assistants. They like their space.”
Of course, if you are considering investing in the region it’s important to do your homework. Despite its similarities with the UK, the Australian and Melbourne markets have their own cultural and consumer preferences. Starbucks learned this lesson the hard way when they entered Australia without a detailed understanding of the boutique coffee culture in Melbourne and other cities. Retailers must research their business carefully to tailor their strategy to local conditions. A good way for retailers to do this is to speak to the Victorian Government Business Office in London.
When gold was discovered in 1851 Melbourne rapidly increased in size. Perhaps Melbourne today is gold yet to be discovered by UK retailers…