Insights and Resources

5 key things a professional services firm can learn from gun Aussie retailer Cotton On

Being a Geelong boy it was great to read a recent article in The Age newspaper about Geelong based retailer Cotton On and how they mastered the middle market.

For those of you that don’t know

Cotton On started in a car boot in 1991 and “… housed just 40 staff in its headquarters 10 years ago. It now employs 1600 people and there are plans to expand it by another 1000 people in the next five years.”

“All of the group’s product is designed and developed in Geelong before being exported to the world, a global network of 1500 stores, 22,000 staff and annual revenue of more than $2 billion.”

Amazing success and growth for a privately-owned firm in a global retail economy. Compare that to its fellow Geelong resident Target Australia which is struggling and made a $195m operating loss in  2016 financial year.

So what can professional services firms learn from the Cotton On experience?

1. They are not a department store (i.e. Target) trying to appeal to everyone

The group has a number of separate brands with separate stores aimed at specific market segments.

2. They never line themselves up with or against a direct competitor

Cotton On creates its own place to play “”Our brands have a specific place where we play; we are not trying to play against the discount department stores but equally we’re not playing in the boutique, designer space.” Unlike Target who competes directly against Kmart, Big W, Myer etc.

3. They have an entrepreneurial approach and a willingness to evolve quickly

Being privately owned allows them to be agile and make quick decisions and they “…don’t have to set out a rigid three to five-year plan.”

4. They are willing to take risks

“A willingness to fail and embrace risk is the key to the strong sales growth…”

5. They don’t rely on one brand

And don’t ”…see any constraints on how big it could grow – both in terms of brands, customers and stores.”

Our experience after working with many professional services firms is that most are following the Target model – one stop shop and attempting to grow by adding more and more services, trying to appeal to everyone without a market position and getting lost in a sea of noise.

Which begs the question – are you following Target off the same cliff?

The Cotton On model is closely aligned to our approach to marketing a Professional Services firm – want to learn more?

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