Vimwood entered the market way back in 1989. As a fashion accessory specialist they have stuck at their task now for almost 30 years. The business has changed and evolved during this time and brands have played an important part in providing them with the ability to make a unique offer to the market. Kirrin Tilbrook joined Vimwood in 2006 with a strong background in managing people and dealing with Consumer Products (CP). She also is fortunate to have retail experience included as part of her background. Kirrin was appointed as General Manager in August of 2012 and set about taking the business to the next level. The Bugg Report recently visited Kirrin at their Sydney offices to speak to her about the business, her plans and aspirations for the year ahead and also how Vimwood will become an even more important partner to retailers around the country.
Can we begin by asking you what your 3 most important priorities will be for your business in 2017?
#1 priority is growth or increasing our market share. We want to build our brands and categories in more retail outlets in Australia. #2 is awareness within the retail industry of our company, our brands, our categories and our unique consignment model. #3 is improvement in systems to make us more efficient and ensure our internal teams are focused on developing better product and new categories without being bogged down with time consuming administrative tasks.
You have assembled a formidable portfolio of brands to compliment your fashion accessories business, how important are brands to your overall strategy?
Very important! Accessories are a tricky category. The added complexity of the consignment model we offer our retailers means the brand needs to be very strong as we rely 100% on a consumers knowledge of the brand, loving the product, and then ultimately making the decision to purchase. It also helps us find out exactly what consumers like and don’t like about the product or the brand pretty quickly!
We understand that you have recently been awarded the category of licensed children’s sunglasses to distribute across the market in Australia. What will this mean for your business now and in the future?
We are really excited about this opportunity. We will be able to develop product under the sunglass category for Disney, Warner Bros, Shopkins, Trolls, Peppa Pig to name just a few! We are also negotiating new contracts for other key properties for release in August 2017 which is really exciting. This category strengthens our relationships with our licensors and gives us more opportunity to get these well known brands into more markets in Australia. It also makes our licensed portfolios more meaningful to potential customers in that we now will cover the categories of hair, jewellery, watches, sunglasses and travel across many of the key brands.
We understand that Vimwood have a significant commitment to the pharmacy trade. Can you give our readers an insight into how this distribution channel works?
We do. This is a relatively new channel of distribution for us and we are still learning a lot about what product works best for this consumer demographic. What has been really exciting is the response we have had within the pharmacy channel to kids product, and in particular licensed brands. There is certainly more growth opportunities within this division if we can get the product right.
We noted with interest that you have a very significant in house design capability. Fashion accessories can be diverse and challenging to assemble. Can you tell us a little about the team you have built at Vimwood?
The design team are a critical part of the business. We are fortunate to have an exceptionally talented team. We made the decision just over a year ago to split our design team into 2 divisions – one team who specialise in licensed brands and the other in our generic brands including private label brands. There is a team leader for each division who also design their own brands, but whose primary function is to drive and motivate the team to achieve our commercial requirements and our company values. One of our values is Excite which is all about creativity and innovation so our design team is a critical component in achieving this.
Can you tell us about your bespoke product development model for developing unique and on trend product ranges for individual retailers?
We try to ensure we maintain a point of difference between all our retailers, particularly with fashion pieces as each retailer represents a different demographic. The detail we receive from our consignment model allows us to analyse consumer purchasing trends within each retailer and allows us to develop new product accordingly. We also work closely with retail buyers on their apparel direction to ensure we are all on the same page in terms of trend and styling.
We notice that Vimwood places great importance on quality and compliance, can you tell us how this process works?
Absolutely – it is something we take very seriously and have built up a comprehensive QA manual and our QA process ensures our product is safe and complies with all mandatory requirements. The bulk of our range is for kids 3-6 with a growing baby portfolio as well so safety is critical. We have an in house QA team who review and approve EVERY product before we send it out to market. We have our own tensile testing machine on site, as well as using Intertek for any laboratory testing in China. Every product has the applicable quality report available at any time. We also take factory compliance very seriously and maintain audit documentation on all our factories on a regular basis, as well as visiting them all every 6-12 months.
Where do you see “bricks and mortar” retail heading in the next 12 months, Kirrin?
The retail environment in Australia has been an ever changing landscape over the past couple of years – it’s hard to say what is in store for the next 12 months. It will continue to evolve, and we need to be nimble, and ready to work with our retail partners to support their strategic directions in a win/win relationship. We have strong retail relationships and see this continuing for the next 12 months and beyond.
How does the online platform figure in your business?
Our website is more of a marketing tool for us than an e-commerce site. We use it to promote our business – who we are and what we do, rather than direct sales to consumers or wholesalers. We still rely on our sales team to make direct contact with existing customers, as well as new prospects. Our warehouse is set up to deal with bulk picks to our business customers as opposed to individual product picks for consumers. We would rather consumers buy from our retail partners so we both get the benefits from the transaction!
Has your retail experience provided you with a greater understanding of the consumer products business?
I believe it has. I have been in retail for over 30 years and I have seen a lot of changes in that time. Australian consumers have become much more price conscious, but are still looking for good value. I think one of my strengths is that I am very good at identifying the core consumer trends by retailer and identifying the kind of product that fits best with them, in line with our retailer’s strategic direction and price positioning. One of the benefits of the consignment model is that we get to see what the consumer is buying on a weekly basis from our ranges and this insight is so critical in the creation of our ranges. It has really helped me, along with my retail store experience, to pin point who the end customer is and how we can ensure we are providing the perfect product to delight and excite our customers.
Kirrin, we really appreciate you allowing us to meet with you. It looks like Vimwood are gearing up for a great year ahead. We look forward to touching base with you closer to Licensing Expo this May 23rd to 25th.