R.M. Williams now targeting townies

16 Apr, 2015 06:15 AM
Do we think that's going to alienate our existing customers? Not at all

BOOTWEAR and clothing company R.M. Williams is "evolving" to target younger, metropolitan Australians, as it reports flat apparel sales this year.

"Are we moving the range forward, making it a bit more contemporary? Yes," said Martin Rippon, R.M. Williams general manager marketing and public relations. "Do we think that's going to alienate our existing customers? Not at all."

Mr Rippon said R.M. Williams, which calls itself 'The Bush Outfitter', was making its apparel "more contemporary to appeal to that younger 20-to-35 age group in the city".

"This is an evolution that you need to do because if your franchise is getting old, then you need to attract new people into the brand."

R.M. Williams has previously reported strong results for its newer "higher-value lines" such as leather jackets and leather bags. Mr Rippon said the company's new range would have more slim-fit products, in line with broader trends in apparel, but rejected suggestions skinny jeans were on the cards.

He said apparel sales had been "flat" this year, whereas boot sales have been strong.

People familiar with R.M. Williams have nicknamed the company's shift as "targeting the townies". They have attributed the recent weak sales to no promotional sales since Christmas, as the company winds back on discounting, and some customer backlash over its sale to a foreign owner.

Former News Corp Australia chief Ken Cowley sold his majority stake in R.M. Williams late last year.

Once described by Mr Cowley as "part of the heritage and fabric of the Australian way of life", R.M. Williams is now controlled by L Capital, the Singapore private equity firm backed by luxury goods company, LVMH Group. IFM Investors, the fund manager owned by not-for-profit super funds, also owns a stake.

R.M. Williams last year also replaced its long-serving chief executive, Hamish Turner, with Raju Vuppalapati, formerly MD of Levi Strauss & Co (Australia, New Zealand, Africa & Middle East).

Global reach

R.M. Williams wanted to increase global revenues to more than $500 million by mid-2019, Mr Turner said early last year.

The company sells its products in the UK and Scandanavia and will focus on Europe before launching in Asia in 2016. Over the past year it has set up a marketing team in Holland and incorporated two Dutch entities.

The company's last accounts show a smaller, $2.19 million profit for the year to June 2014, despite revenue rising to $128.19m as retail sales and footwear volumes increased.

For the year to June 29, 2014, retail sales rose by 6.9 per cent, export wholesale grew by 6.6pc, but wholesale sales fell. Footwear volumes increased by 11.3pc.

"Domestically made clothing continues to have increased price driven by competition from global brands and imported goods, especially due to the strength of the Australian dollar," the accounts state.

"The Australian manufactured product continues to be complemented by an increase in overseas-manufactured product and thus offers our customers choice in product range and price whilst maintaining the traditional quality of the R.M. Williams product."

Mr Rippon said the company still manufactures boots, some jeans, some shirts and some belts in Australia, and more than 20pc of its product is Australian made.

R.M. Williams was founded by Adelaide bootmaker Reginald Murray Williams in 1932. In 1998, Mr Williams sold the business to Adelaide businessman Tony Summers. Five years later, the business went into receivership and Mr Cowley and mining and media billionaire Kerry Stokes took control.

Mr Cowley, a long-time confidant of Rupert Murdoch, became the company's sole shareholder in 2003. In 2013, L Capital bought 49.9pc of R.M. Williams for $54 million; in late 2014, it and IFM Investors took full ownership.

L Capital's other Australian investments are workout clothing company 2XU, swimsuit business Seafolly, and the upmarket grocer Jones the Grocer, which collapsed in December.

Date: Newest first | Oldest first


16/04/2015 8:35:55 AM

This isn't new to discard their loyal rural following to concentrate on yuppie city type, try hards. In my opinion RM Williams is now nearly a dirty word in the bush. They don't want rural farmers and workers as customers any more. You cannot have it both ways and appeal to both city and country people. RM Williams has decided long ago to only appeal to city customers. I went to one of their FEW ONLY rural stores on Monday to buy some more of their work socks. "We don't sell work wear in our stores any more". They had thin dress socks only. You have lost me as a long time customer, for good.
16/04/2015 8:48:05 AM

Targeting city buyers, increasing prices, 80% imported product, turning away core, loyal rural customers. Doesn't take a brain surgeon to work out why sales are down.
16/04/2015 11:48:52 AM

Their products are overpriced and average quality, in my opinion. I got told a while ago I shouldn't have used my RM work boots for farmwork......huh? really? Give me RB Sellars any day and Ariat boots. See ya later RM Williams....
16/04/2015 12:44:16 PM

Freshy, yep, RM left the bush more than a decade ago.
station life
16/04/2015 1:33:17 PM

Kent Saddlery is the best by far. They are now what RM williams was a generation ago, still travel as a hawker to the top end and central stations. Located at Stanthorpe Qld. Champions.
16/04/2015 2:28:51 PM

$70 to buy a 'work shirt' that is likely made by the same people who make the $30 equivalent labelled Dust'nBoots/RB Sellars et al? no thanks. The hipster skinny jeans and rm boots look has totally thrown me off. Not really seeing a bright future for RM now that PE has swopped in.
16/04/2015 4:26:59 PM

Reality is any business needs to make a profit to survive. Having been close to RMW for a decade I can tell you many "traditional" bush Customers baulked at the prices of all Australian made products, made by aussies in SA being paid Australian wages. Don't complain now its gone all city - as these people will pay the money & keep the Adelaide boot factory open with its hundreds of loyal employees. If you want Aust made anything it costs more - fact of life.
16/04/2015 7:06:20 PM

RM Williams is for city folk who team it with their spray on dirt for their city 4WD's
ex worker
17/04/2015 7:52:32 AM

Couldn't agree more Freshy. I worked for RMW years ago and the bush customers were everything to us. RMW and Kidman are Australian icons and should be kept that way.
17/04/2015 10:12:17 AM

I agree with you, SW. I am more than happy to pay a premium for quality Australian products. it is to expected. I was just disappointed to learn that their work shirts (made in China) have a premium added for the luxury of having the longhorn logo embroidered.
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