‘Be a retailer with difference’: A conversation with David Bush


As told to Phoebes Garland, Garland & Garland Fashion

phoebe and bushMention David Bush in the Australian fashion industry and people pay attention, but with more than 20 years at David Jones, including being Head of Womenswear, it’s no surprise.

This fashion veteran has successfully become a forceful voice in the industry with his own venture, DBC Consulting, specialising in strategy and planning, buying and merchandising, format development, branding and marketing, market entry, and training and mentoring.  He also maintains no business is the same and is a strong believer in strategy and knowing the customer – a lesson that applies across the retail spectrum.

In your piece in Ragtrader, ‘The Question of Timing’ (Ragtrader, December 2013) you mention trans-seasonal drops, which all retailers seem to be focusing more and more on. You said you believe it’s affecting sell through for retailers trying to be retailer for all seasons to their customer.

I’m not against the trans seasonal drops as such, but I am just against ordinary, thoughtless product. So many brands just look lazy at these times. Many just regurgitate past best sellers in dull palettes.

The bottom line is product must be hot every month. It must be on the money every time. Customers can sniff laziness at 100 paces.

How can retailers both big and small improve their business?

Many retailers spend too much time either looking in the rear view mirror or at their competitors and not enough time looking forward. Finding the right recipe is key.

How much competitive analysis are they doing? How much post-seasonal reviewing is required? Do that, then its full steam ahead.

Fashion is about tomorrow not yesterday. It’s about convincing the consumer they need and must have what you’re selling. If it’s the same as what’s in their wardrobe or the same as the shop down the street, good luck trying to convince them to walk through your door. Of course there are times when we all repeat on best sellers, but it’s about finding the right balance.

In addition many smaller retailers take the view that “if I have a little of everything, then I won’t miss a sale”. This is a disaster in my view. Customers respond to a solid point of view, a direction.


All the discounting, especially by the majors, has had a flow-on effect to the independent retailers having to go on sale to be competitive. Some are finding that the customer is immune to a 20% off sale, and seems to be only responding to a 50% off sale. What should independent retailers do to ensure adequate sell through to minimise sales stock and discounting?

I’m not sure when the consumer ever got out of bed for 20% off, perhaps 10 or 15 years ago, but not now. Clearing stock is a key part to any retailer’s success, so doing it quickly and efficiently is key.

Smaller retailers must be competitive, so if the price in the market is the price, then they must become better negotiators with their suppliers. They must find ways to improve their margin.

What are the most important strategies retailers need to have to excite the consumer into spending?

Product, product, product. Finding the right mix of brands and products is key. Once you have them in the store then it’s about competitive pricing and the most important thing of all, SERVICE. With the onslaught from online, service is the key differentiator for the bricks and mortar retailer.

With your vast experience at David Jones, what is the key to success when dealing with wholesale labels?

Differentiated product, a solid value proposition and some luck.

What fundamentals have contributed to your success in retail and fashion? 

Being a decisive and effective leader is key to business success. I have worked for a couple of amazing leaders. I would still walk over hot coals for them even today. Their leadership allowed for my success and I hope I have allowed for some of my team’s success over the years.

Surround yourself with the best people. Allow your team the autonomy they need to get things done, and allow them to get on with the business.

And listen! It took me a long time to realise that if you shut up and really listen, you learn a hell of a lot … some might say I am still learning this lesson.

Finally, having a clear and concise strategy is empowering. Ensuring every single person in the organisation understands the strategy and is on the same page enables success.


What are the sales opportunities in retail in 2014? 

I think it’s about looking inward. What can I do better? What opportunities did I miss last year? Have I got the trends right for this season? How do I differentiate myself from the pack?

I walked many retail avenues pre-Christmas and well over half had not been bothered to present Christmas. Likewise for spring racing. If you can’t be bothered, why would your customer be bothered to think of you at these key trading times?

 The ‘mature’ sector has been slow in embracing online retail and it’s difficult for them to sell online, due to varying shapes and sizes of the age group they need to target. How important do you think it is for these fashion brands to market themselves online to capture new customers? 

I think it’s important to ensure we think about online and bricks and mortar in the same way. Most brands I speak with are telling me that although online is growing it’s not always incremental. The customer sees it as just another access point to the retailer.

What I will say is that the ‘mature’ customer, as you call her, is changing. The issue for many brands is whether they have or can change with her. Those that have, are reaping the rewards both online and in store. As you have probably guessed I hate the word ‘mature’ – I think the customer does, too.

This customer is younger than ever before: she is modern, and she is relevant. Why then do so many brands think she is sitting at home knitting? This may be why, in my opinion, many ‘mature’ brands are failing – they have failed to recognise this fundamental change. Our mothers and grandmothers are not in the kitchen cooking; they’re out to lunch with the girls. So be relevant!

How can independents be more active in seeking out and understanding this new customer?

This is a tough question to answer in 1 or 2 paragraphs.

I respect that so many retailers must spend a great deal of time inside their own businesses; however, get out and look at what other retailers are doing. Asking “where is the customer shopping?” is a great start.

I think it’s about identifying your customer. I say with great respect, I don’t think many retailers have taken the time to really identify who their customer really is. Without an intimate knowledge of who he or she is, you cannot be successful.


Where do you think independent retailers can improve with visual merchandising?

Identify the key events that will be important to your core customer. Mother’s day, spring racing, Summer holidays. Start with those that drive the highest volume of sales.

Perhaps think about employing a creative VM consultant. If this isn’t an option then make a strong singular statement. Try something different, have some fun, but most of all be clear in your message. Make sure your customer will have no doubt that you have, for example, the best assortment of dresses for spring racing.

From your observations of overseas retail, what are they doing better than Australian retailers and what areas can they improve?

Service is number 1. Remember quality and quantity: embrace change and make decisions early; turn inventory quickly and understand your customer.

DavidB1BOOK NOW to see David Bush at the Fashion Exposed Business Breakfast on Sunday, 23 February 2014 from 8.00 – 9.30am

Join us for a full breakfast and get great advice from David Bush on `How to create a winning business model: becoming a retailer of difference in a competitive market.’

Tickets are $30 with limited spaces available.

CLICK HERE to purchase.

David will also present at the Fashion Exposed Business Seminar in Melbourne, 22-24 February 2014.

CLICK HERE to register for the free seminar from 1.30 – 2.30 pm on Saturday, 22 February, 2014.

Follow Phoebes Garland on the following Social media;


About the Author

phoebe_soloPhoebes Garland is a Features Writer for EXPOSED Online and co-owns Garland & Garland Fashion with Robert Garland, a leading fashion agency based in Sydney. Phoebe also owns Fashion Initiative an online fashion destination covering business of fashion, fashion, luxury and events. Described as a” Power Agent” by Ragtrader magazine. Between the two of them, Phoebes & Robert Garland have over 50 years sales experience in fashion, publishing and advertising.

Garland & Garland Fashion is a respected leading boutique fashion agency based in Sydney, and they are regularly sought for comment from various media and the fashion industry on business fashion topics, fashion and issues. Phoebes was named as The Ones To Follow In 2014: The Top 20 Fashionista Hot List of 2013

2 thoughts on “‘Be a retailer with difference’: A conversation with David Bush

  1. Pingback: How Will You Make 2014 Different? |

  2. hi …
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    thank you


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