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Beyond the Bale : June 2016
54 MARKET INTELLIGENCE With a realigned corporate structure and executive team, I thought it might be timely to describe the landscape from the perspective of your team in the field. We operate against the backdrop of a retailing world beset with challenges such as online competitors, capricious consumers, manic discounting, extreme currency fluctuations, unseasonable weather patterns, volatile macro-economic pressures, and inflated market expectations, just to name a few. Grabbing the attention of a pressured senior retail executive to talk about wool as an integral element of their business strategy can be quite the challenge. In the field, the only way it works is to carefully tease out the retailer’s pain point – whether that be margin pressure, greater yield per square metre, price point elevation, competitive differentiation or others – and spinning a story (no pun intended) about how wool can be a solution to that particular ill. That skill and depth of understanding of retail sensitivities and metrics is often not native to those not born into that world. In the best of times it is hardly simple, and in the crazy confusion of the current retail reality, then it is even harder. We are tasking our international Woolmark teams to not only be expert in wool as a fibre but to master the nuances of the complex global channel that distributes it to consumers. Ultimately, that takes time, expertise and training. We are constantly upskilling our people through a structured process of support, counselling, best- practice modelling and mentoring so that they have the best chance to grab the attention of our retail brand partners. Our engagement is also rarely at a single level in the brand. We have to be flexible enough to change our language to match the audience – from educating designers about wool’s unique characteristics, championing supply chain optimisations, providing the tools for merchants to sell end product, helping marketing teams plan promotions, and training the store personnel to support sell through efficiency. We also have to be familiar with multiple segments including haute couture, womenswear, bespoke heritage men’s tailoring, cutting-edge sports and performance wear, emerging contemporary trends and on, as well as how that spills down to the shoulder and mass merchants. To top off all this, these representations and presentations need to be made in multiple languages, across grueling time zone restrictions, accounting for often subtle cultural priorities, differing body type fits, and actively engaging partners with marketing budgets (and egos) that often dwarf our own. That is what makes this particular industry both annoyingly complex and ultimately so interesting. We also operate in two distinct capacities. We are on one hand defending existing markets, such as suiting for example, from attack from competitive fibres, economic pressure and price sensitivities of brands. However, we are also on the offence trying to find ever- new market opportunities for wool to be presented in new categories as the fibre for all reasons and all seasons. This requires us to engage with brands to ferret out their needs and liaise with our trade and supply partners to help them optimise their innovation investments to address these needs. This is why the new structure – Western and Eastern Regional management – is so critical to the future success of AWI and The Woolmark Company. Our Western Region team (Europe and the Americas) primarily relate to our retail partners maximising opportunities for wool consumption and discovering latent fibre performance or characteristic needs. Our Eastern Region team (India, Australia and ASEAN countries) optimise our supply chain alignment ensuring our trade partners produce the products and innovations that the brands need so as to maximise consumption. However, in a global business like ours, those divisions are not simple or absolute. We end up supporting both trade and retail brands across worldwide initiatives on both sides of the globe where consumers and producers meet. We have to remain nimble, agile, fully informed and efficient. The Woolmark Company’s team has some of the most passionate and engaged people I have ever worked with. They are eager to learn, willing to pull the long hours, dedicated to the outcomes and proud ambassadors for wool. They are guided by a team of executives with a balanced skill set across marketing, brand, trade, training and innovation. This range of disciplines is required to ensure best representation of the myriad of opportunities that wool represents. Timing is also ideal with a groundswell of interest in ecologically sustainable products that won’t end up clogging landfill sites and that have a heritage value beyond a single season use. Consumers are better educated and more informed about their choices with an ever increasing set of purchase options available to them. It is the right time for wool, aligned so well with these cultural movements. We are selectively working with the right calibre brands and trade vendors that best represent our noble fibre and its heritage. We look forward to continued success for wool. Best Wishes from your team in the field. Continuing our series of feature articles written for Beyond the Bale by industry experts, in this edition Stuart Ford, AWI’s General Manager for the Western Hemisphere, who joined the company in March, provides his perspective on the complexities of international marketing and the challenges faced by the international offices of AWI’s subsidiary, The Woolmark Company. A VIEW FROM THE FRONT LINE Stuart Ford, AWI General Manager – Western Hemisphere
In the Shops - September 2016