Sportsgirl CEO Elle Roseby

Sportsgirl CEO Elle Roseby

Trendy Australian fashion retailer Sportsgirl has spent the last five years working to establish a presence in all areas of its customers' lives. CEO Elle Roseby spoke to Petah Marian about how the 63-year-old brand has managed to remain relevant for its internet-savvy shoppers.

Roseby says Sportsgirl has had to look beyond the shopping experience to stand out from the crowd - especially since the retailer's target consumers, 15-24 year-old women, have become a lot "savvier" in their shopping behaviour.

"When I started, [the competition] was Sportsgirl, Portmans, and Misshop. Now there's Forever New, Dotti, Supre, and Bardot, so there's that local competition and there's the online component," she explains.

"And then there's the likes of eBay where she's quite happy to shop for a bargain and get a good price, and there are all of these merchants that have opened up their little shopfronts on eBay selling directly to people."

With its 111 stores, the privately-owned retailer has worked to differentiate itself by being more than a retailer through a deeply integrated social media strategy, with a mobile platform, QR codes in its stores, and international bloggers covering fashion events around the world. "That's all a part of our girl's life. We have to be where she is," Roseby emphasises.

Highlighting the success of Burberry's digital strategy, Roseby believes that "it is really about being part of that conversation, and also embracing her and really being part of her knowledge and giving her the opportunity to partake in the brand or communicate with the brand in a way that isn't necessarily to sell product to her, but also help her find out something she didn't know before."

Roseby is bullish on the entry of Zara, Gap, Topshop and Uniqlo to the Australian market, noting that aside from Zara they have been available to Australian consumers through online channels for some time.

"If anything, what Zara has done is brought more people into the city and brought more foot traffic through".

These entries were expected, Roseby adds. "You'd be blind Freddie to believe it wouldn't happen at some point."

But Sportsgirl has always faced competition from new entrants, with Roseby highlighting the likes of Dotti, Forever New and Cotton On. But because the market isn't growing, "you've just got to be better, savvier and more aligned with what your customer is wanting".

She says the brand's heritage means that regardless of the competition, there is a "loyalty from customers to shop our stores, and it's been proven with the opening of Zara across the road from us."

While the entry of these international retailers has generated excitement and increased footfall, they still face challenges as they learn more about the idiosyncrasies of the Australian market.

"We've been trading in this market for a long time and there is a particular sizing to this market and we custom everything to that, whereas Zara is quite generic in their sizing, and you can go into their store and see some of their sizes just sitting there on the rack," says Roseby.

We "also know your size curves too. We know that when a product goes into store what sizes are going to be the best selling sizes and you can tailor your offer to that and reduce your markdowns".

Roseby says Sportsgirl is always working to reduce sourcing times on the products it sells, but adds that the limited production capacity in Australia means that it wouldn't be able to replicate as quick a turnaround as Zara.

"We'll never have the same model as Zara, but we can always work with our vendors to turn things around faster, and there are many clever things you can do to achieve this, and that's what we're doing now with our Chinese vendors."

She says that increasing costs in China have been partially offset by rises in the Australian dollar, and it will always remain a "very strong manufacturing base" for the retailer.

"You may choose to do a bit of souring out of India, a little bit out of Bangladesh, you might also look at Vietnam. Each of these countries have their own strengths, but you'll never convert or never move your entire production to those countries.

"It's just not going to happen because of the way the China market services the global market, the way that it is set up," she says.

Roseby is currently planning to revamp the retailer's website, which is now five years old. As part of this online review, Sportsgirl plans to open up international ordering on the site.

"For us, the main thing will be reviewing that online platform and really accessing a global market and being pretty serious about that".

The retailer also plans to roll out the store design featured in its three super flagships by HMKM architects and Mary Portas' Yellow Door consultancy into the rest of its store estate, while continuing to look at the ways it will need to innovate in order to communicate with consumers.

"Not innovation for innovation's sake, but when it is relevant for us."

Other articles in this series include an overview of the Australian retail landscape, an interview with Myer CEO Bernie Brookes, and an interview with Target managing director Launa Inman.