yARN: Fighting from the shade

yARN: Fighting from the shade

A story of conventional retail wisdom vs. Strathfield

Last week, we saw two stories that presented very different perspectives on how retail can survive the current economic crisis.

On one side, we had the Australian Retailers Association, and consultants, The Retail Doctor.

“Focus,” they say. “Know your audience, go after that audience with a passion. Don’t try and be everything to everyone, because your message will just get lost. Invest in technology and build yourself an efficient organisation.”

Their presentation at the Microsoft Future of Retail event in Sydney also had a speaker from Busbrand – an organisation that specialises in bringing specialist fashion downunder.

Now, fashion and IT are worlds apart, but there are similarities from a retail perspective. Limited shelf life for products, and a perception on being a luxury item (in some product segments) by consumers being key similarities.

The speaker from Busbrand, Simon Nankervis, agreed that retail needs to be streamlined and focused on core audiences, and while there may or may not have been exaggeration involved in his presentation, the growth of his company seemed positive - lending weight to the slimmed down approach being advised at the event.

But on the other hand, we have Strathfield, recently out of receivership and scrapping for a fight over our dollars. Funnily enough, or perhaps not if you are a worried employee, their new approach, which is meant to help them rise from the ashes like the mythical phoenix, is (completely?) at odds with this conventional retail wisdom.

“We’re going to open big stores, and do everything from rentals to financing to office solutions,” it said as it launched its rehabilitation plan last week.

Apparently, Strathfield is also going through strategic training that positions it better than Harvey when it comes to office supply. Perhaps the thought there is that with Harvey pulling out of the space - Ofis was shuttered in early February - there was room for a defiant challenger?

Strathfield is going to branch out to offer mobile phone oriented kiosks in major shopping centres, it’s going to open 60 new franchise stores, including megastores across the country, and it also has refurbishing plans on the cards, with franchisees partly assisted by the group.

Strathfield seems to have the funding to at least attempt this, but the question is – is it a sound battle plan?

It’s like the battle of Thermopylae. Defying what seems to be conventional wisdom, a small, yet tenacious player is bracing its shields against wave after wave of opposition.

Every once in a while, stands like these come off. But Strathfield is definitely fighting from the shade in this one. It will be interesting to see if the result is glamorous enough to translate into a film - just like the battle of Thermopylae became the masterpiece that is 300.

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