Thursday, 22 November 2012

Decjuba – Rebirth of a brand

In a time in which many are claiming spending is down and business is verging on impossible, one entrepreneur is bucking the trend, bringing the Decjuba brand back from certain extinction.
When I arrived at the Decjuba offices in Collingwood I was immediately impressed.  Rather than a standard head office removed from the stores, it emulated a retail store. The staff moved with a purpose yet none to busy to greet me as they passed. Behind the stylish and well-designed reception was a clearly visible rack, almost to the ceiling, with the latest range forming the centre piece of the open plan offices.

As I waited with anticipation to meet the woman I had heard so much about, I was greeted by the familiar clanging sound of running rails being carried from the offices through the reception.  Yup this is a retailer!
Tania Austin, CEO, greeted me at reception and you’d have been forgiven for thinking you’d just walked into  a shoot for Vogue or Harpers. A stylish woman dressed, not just immaculately but (to my surprise) head to toe in her own Decjuba designs.

Tania Austin was half of the superpower behind the Cotton on Group which includes Cotton On, Cotton On Kids, Cotton On body, Rubi shoes and Typo. Together with her then-husband, Tania and Nigel grew a humble yet creative retail concept into a retail giant in multiple countries.
While speaking to Tania I expected some amazing pearls of wisdom as to how they grew a small business into a global force and the very unassuming Tania, whilst full of great advice, always brought it back to one thing:  back to basics.

There are thousands of reasons Tania and Nigel made a success of the Cotton on Brands but Tania stressed that the ability to keep your eyes wide open and always see all areas of the business coupled with listening to your people was a huge factor in their success. She also said that as the business grew it was critical not to let the numbers scare her; they took calculated risks and didn’t always play it safe.
After separating from Nigel, Tania made the tough decision to leave the business also and immediately knew she needed to find a new challenge as she had never not worked.  Having worked in the value-for-money space, Tania wanted to try her hand in a different style of retail where she could have more flexibility to play with design and fabrics and at the same time create an image. Tania identified the need for a brand that worked for the youth market and yet showed a maturing woman she didn’t need to stop being fashionable. In short she wanted to create a brand that made women feel great.

When Tania began considering her options she was approached to look at the Decjuba brand. Although the brand was a little lost in the market, Tania knew immediately this was the next step for her. Tania loved the platform and thought it was something she could build on and besides, she loved the name.

Decjuba was founded in 2003 by Kookai owner Rob Cromb, who sold the brand a short while later to focus on his core brand. At that point Decjuba began to face an identity crisis. Trying to be many different things the brand dabbled in men’s and women’s designs as well as accessories, leaving consumers confused as to what it was. By 2008  just as many thought the brand was no longer in existence, Tania stepped in.
Taking over six Australian and two New Zealand stores Tania made it a point to not make radical changes, preferring to assess and understand the brand. Working closely with the people in the company paid off as and most of the original team are still in place and have been an integral part of the growth.

Tania oversees all elements of design personally and is focused on keeping it simple, but just how does one go about reinventing an entire brand? The first answer from Tania was to have a considered approach which is not always tangible.
“Sometimes you just have to feel it” Austin says - a talent no doubt gained while completing her psychology degree.

Once you have developed a brand strategy you have to keep everything on brand, rather than trying to be everything to everyone.
“Versatility was the other thing Austin targeted but a good fit is essential and will effectively become the cornerstone for your brand.  Customers want to be able to wear an outfit to the office and then throw a jacket on and head out to dinner; we have a core range of basics that can be dressed up or down depending on the occasion. Even when I go to pick up the kids I can dress down accordingly,” Tania says, although your average soccer mom she isn’t.

As savvy with her commercial skills as she is, Tania knew the key to pulling all of her ideas into a winning brand was to leverage her fashion sense and to get margin on her side. The first step was to change the sourcing model from using agents in Hong Kong to becoming vertical retailer and sourcing direct from China. This not only improved margin it also gave a greater handle on product quality and speed to market a combination which is critical in today’s retail market.
The most remarkable thing about Tania is that she doesn’t seem to have a particular strength she focuses on. Rather she owns all areas of the business. She is as comfortable talking about her finances as she is her design. If there was one area that seemed to light she up it was her people. Tania says she believes people want to do the right thing and if you give them direction and freedom they will always surprise you. Speaking first hand with some of her people Tania walks the walk with her team and they have enormous respect for her. Each week all department heads meet on location at a store and review all areas of the business; this assures complete buy in to the bigger picture and departments work together for the greater good. 

Decjuba has a clear brand strategy and doesn’t do anything for the sake of it. You will find them on Facebook with over 12,000 followers and on Pinterest where you will be delighted with the amazing trends. All on brand, it’s clear that it’s a well thought out strategy.
So what’s next for this brand? The sky is the limit now; and with 23 stores and around seven  more opening next year, I am convinced Decjuba will soon be considered a leader in Australian fashion. Tania’s respect for what she calls her savvy customer will ensure the quality is maintained whilst the value-for-money and versatile ranges continue to delight. The online store will continue to grow and compliment the bricks and mortar sites.

The brand will foster its owner’s mantra of bravery and courage and will continue to push the boundaries.
Tania says she believes in acting with certainty and will be action focused to grow her brand.

“I don’t believe in failure,” says Tania.
Trust me: this is one lady that will not fail 

-John Caldwell

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