R.M. Williams now targeting townies

R.M. Williams now targeting townies


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R.M. WILLIAMS is "evolving" to target younger, metropolitan Australians, as it reports flat apparel sales this year.

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BOOTWEAR and clothing company R.M. Williams is "evolving" to target younger, metropolitan Australians, as it reports flat apparel sales this year.

"Are we moving the range forward, making it a bit more contemporary? Yes," said Martin Rippon, R.M. Williams general manager marketing and public relations. "Do we think that's going to alienate our existing customers? Not at all."

Mr Rippon said R.M. Williams, which calls itself 'The Bush Outfitter', was making its apparel "more contemporary to appeal to that younger 20-to-35 age group in the city".

"This is an evolution that you need to do because if your franchise is getting old, then you need to attract new people into the brand."

R.M. Williams has previously reported strong results for its newer "higher-value lines" such as leather jackets and leather bags. Mr Rippon said the company's new range would have more slim-fit products, in line with broader trends in apparel, but rejected suggestions skinny jeans were on the cards.

He said apparel sales had been "flat" this year, whereas boot sales have been strong.

People familiar with R.M. Williams have nicknamed the company's shift as "targeting the townies". They have attributed the recent weak sales to no promotional sales since Christmas, as the company winds back on discounting, and some customer backlash over its sale to a foreign owner.

Former News Corp Australia chief Ken Cowley sold his majority stake in R.M. Williams late last year.

Once described by Mr Cowley as "part of the heritage and fabric of the Australian way of life", R.M. Williams is now controlled by L Capital, the Singapore private equity firm backed by luxury goods company, LVMH Group. IFM Investors, the fund manager owned by not-for-profit super funds, also owns a stake.

R.M. Williams last year also replaced its long-serving chief executive, Hamish Turner, with Raju Vuppalapati, formerly MD of Levi Strauss & Co (Australia, New Zealand, Africa & Middle East).

Global reach

R.M. Williams wanted to increase global revenues to more than $500 million by mid-2019, Mr Turner said early last year.

The company sells its products in the UK and Scandanavia and will focus on Europe before launching in Asia in 2016. Over the past year it has set up a marketing team in Holland and incorporated two Dutch entities.

The company's last accounts show a smaller, $2.19 million profit for the year to June 2014, despite revenue rising to $128.19m as retail sales and footwear volumes increased.

For the year to June 29, 2014, retail sales rose by 6.9 per cent, export wholesale grew by 6.6pc, but wholesale sales fell. Footwear volumes increased by 11.3pc.

"Domestically made clothing continues to have increased price driven by competition from global brands and imported goods, especially due to the strength of the Australian dollar," the accounts state.

"The Australian manufactured product continues to be complemented by an increase in overseas-manufactured product and thus offers our customers choice in product range and price whilst maintaining the traditional quality of the R.M. Williams product."

Mr Rippon said the company still manufactures boots, some jeans, some shirts and some belts in Australia, and more than 20pc of its product is Australian made.

R.M. Williams was founded by Adelaide bootmaker Reginald Murray Williams in 1932. In 1998, Mr Williams sold the business to Adelaide businessman Tony Summers. Five years later, the business went into receivership and Mr Cowley and mining and media billionaire Kerry Stokes took control.

Mr Cowley, a long-time confidant of Rupert Murdoch, became the company's sole shareholder in 2003. In 2013, L Capital bought 49.9pc of R.M. Williams for $54 million; in late 2014, it and IFM Investors took full ownership.

L Capital's other Australian investments are workout clothing company 2XU, swimsuit business Seafolly, and the upmarket grocer Jones the Grocer, which collapsed in December.

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