Just like Lorde and Lucy Lawless, New Zealand’s menswear retailer Rodd & Gunn stumbled upon success in the US, so it was about time it brought its hallmark style to the UK.
“I didn’t even think we were going to be in the UK,” chief executive Mike Beagley told Retail Gazette, reflecting on the retailer’s launch in September with a store in London’s prestigious Mayfair district.
“This has given us a lot more visibility, I’ve had a customer come in here from Lima, Peru asking to be our distributor in Peru,” Beagley laughed.
Rodd & Gunn only launched in the US in 2016, and Beagley said it was a success – building on the established roots it already has at home in NZ and nearby Australia. In NZ alone, Rodd & Gunn trades through 20 stores, one concession and three outlets.
“We’re one of the only, if not the only retailer from New Zealand, so our whole strategy is to invite people to come and share a bit of New Zealand with them,” Beagley explained.
“When we opened our first store in the US, we went out and said a big story about New Zealand, and it’s been really successful.
“I’d like to build a real business [in the UK] like we have in America. So that’s a multichannel, wholesale business, especially businesses and department stores, an ecommerce business that is meaningful and a retail network that adds value to our overall business.
“Most people have positive affirmations about New Zealand – we’re one of those countries that really don’t offend anyone,” he laughed.
While the UK’s volatile retail market may have deterred Rodd & Gunn, Beagley saw this as an opportunity – especially after value pf the pound dropped.
“Opportunity comes in normally adverse circumstances,” he said.
“So when it’s tough, there’s always a better opportunity for you to find out about it.
“It’s actually better to come in at a challenging time. The pound is so weak at the moment and so the value of the UK has never been better for international people.
“We use Italian fabrics but at really good prices, so we’re not driven by margin. It takes courage to do that. I’m not focused on making X pounds return here – it’s about what is a sustainable business model.”
“Our whole strategy is to invite people to come and share a bit of New Zealand with them”
Beagley acknowledged the retailers that collapsed in recent times due to various reasons. To avoid a similar demise, he said Rodd & Gunn aimed to upgrade its brand strategy by remaining relevant – which also meant recruiting a young team.
“I’m the oldest employee in the company by a long way,” Beagley joked.
“We’ve got a really good young team of people. Our creative director is 36 and he’s worked with us for 13 years.
“I’ve been involved in the business for 20 years, and in those years we’ve had two creative directors – John and his mother. We have this continuum of the same family designing our products.
“John gets where fashion is going and he travels quite a lot so he’s taking us on a journey.
“We’re not fast fashion by any stretch of the imagination, but you need to keep on moving forward if you want to be relevant.”
In fact, Rodd & Gunn has a whole department of sustainability and ethical sourcing – something which Beagley worked on for seven years. While sustainability is rising trend in the retail sector, he admitted he hasn’t gone out to “shout about it”.
“It’s not about a marketing campaign, so you’ll never see our ads go ‘we’re 100 per cent sustainable it’s part of our DNA’,” Beagley said.
“We have an obligation to do it. We know where our cotton is grown, how much water was used, and whether any pesticide was used.
“It’s something customers can find out more about on the Rodd & Gunn website.
“If you watch all the other brands on Instagram, everything’s about sustainability. But do they really live it? There’s very few brands that actually do live it.
“We want to be honest about it and take people on that journey.”
Beagley is also one of those rare chief executives that stays on top of feedback by allowing customers to contact him directly.
“I’m on every single email that comes in with customer complaints,” he said
“So I get to see it and understand it, it could be a suggestion or could be a complaint.”
In fact, Rodd & Gunn’s new London store has its own customer service team downstairs, where feedback rolls in to be investigated.
“Online is the greatest way that people want to communicate with you now,” Beagley said.
“We’ve got an ecommerce customer service. At five o’clock tonight, New York takes over, and then the next morning, Auckland takes over and then Australia.”
“There’s a lot of purity in being a men’s only brand”
In terms of its collection, Rodd & Gunn receives six emails each week from people requesting for a womenswear range. But Beagley said one of his first decisions since taking over the retailer in 2000 was to “get out of womenswear”.
“We’ve already got so much to do with menswear without complicating our lives,” he explained.
“There’s a lot of purity in being a men’s only brand and giving men a place to feel comfortable and not corrupted or confused.”
Beagley said Rodd & Gunn’s main focus at the moment was its flagship in the UK and developing a brand engagement story.
“We have to build our brand. That’s the only way you succeed,” he said.
“If you’re a known brand from Italy for example, you’re going to have lots of customers when you open your doors, whereas we have to build our brand, so it’s going to take time.
“I’ve never quit anything in my life so we’re going to make this successful.”
Although Beagley conceded that he has no idea where the retailer was heading and that it’s too soon to jump into another venture, he said Rodd & Gunn would continue its learn from its operations in the UK.
“To find the next thing, you need to do a lot of research. I’m studying that now and thinking where do we go next?” he said.
“That’s the next part of our journey.”