Feature

How an Australian retailer ruffled its Feathers to become an icon

“If you are not on social media you will be left behind, simple as that!” – Margaret Porritt, Feathers.

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With more than 50 years in Australian retail, Margaret Porritt is a fashion force to be reckoned with.

Founded in 1972, her Feathers Boutique has grown to become one of Melbourne’s most iconic fashion brands. Along with a talented and passionate team, Porritt remains at the helm of the company today where she oversees the design of each and every garment.

From a young age, Margaret grew up admiring the talents of her milliner mother, forming an appreciation for aesthetics and design.  After working in the UK for Norman Hartnell the former dressmaker to the Queen, she undertook a millinery apprenticeship with her mother before deciding to start her own women’s wear brand.

“As a single parent with three small boys aged 4, 5 and 9, I had no option but to become an employer rather than an employee,” she said. “I wanted to provide women with the fashion they wanted and needed,” she said. “The love and passion I have for fashion still burns inside me.”

So what’s her secret to such long term success?

“Listening to my customers, responding quickly to the market and being able to adapt quickly to change are the keys to remaining in this industry,” she said.

Now with a succession of fifteen stores and over fifty employees, Feathers is proving to be as strong as ever. Margaret credits these results to three main elements; her team, (many of whom have been with the company for over twenty-five years) the quality of the fabrics and manufacturing, and the ability to rapidly turn around product from design-phase to shop floor.

Margaret will return to the Fashion Exposed Business Seminar series this weekend to present her Feathers Retail Case Study.

In this quick chat, she tells us the story behind the name; the challenges; her response to the `doom and gloom’ retail reports; and tips for attracting new customers and establishing existing ones.

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How would you describe the clothing and the Feathers woman?

The Feathers woman has endless sophistication, practically and style. She loves trademark black, but also loves to be daring at times.

Feathers clothing represents the Feathers woman and has grown to become one of Melbourne’s most iconic fashion brands. Sourcing the highest quality fabrics at an affordable retail price – 50 % of the range is made in Australia.

Can you tell us the story behind the name?

It was very hard to choose a name, it was like naming a child! I didn’t want to use my name Margaret Porritt and I liked the simplicity and freedom of the word “Feathers”.

What have been some of the biggest changes in retail since you first started? And how have they impacted on your business?

I am in an ever-changing competitive industry and if I don’t keep moving with the times and reinventing myself I will be left behind.

We hear constant media reports of the `doom and gloom’ for Australian retailers, especially with the rise of online shopping – as someone who is working in the industry, can you give us your account from the frontline? How has bricks and mortar retail been affected by e-commerce?

The Feathers demographic is very tactile –  she is a woman ranging  from 30 – 60 years of age.

She will look online but primarily ventures into the store to buy. Online shopping has complemented our boutique sales, they work together.

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Your bricks and mortar boutiques are complemented by an online store – when did you launch online and how has it affected your business/sales?

Feathers ventured into the world of E-commerce in February 2012. The launch of Feathers online enabled us to grow into new markets both interstate and overseas. Our online sales are consistent and growing fast.

Feathers is also very active on social media with a Facebook page, Twitter and Pinterest board. How do you use these channels to speak to your customers? Why is it important for Feathers to be there?

If you are not on social media you will be left behind, simple as that! Social media provides an opportunity for businesses by giving it a personalised platform to connect with its customers.

By using social media  to advertise your company, you can speak directly to the consumer in an arena they are comfortable with. Social media allows businesses to connect with customers while shaping their perceptions of products and services.

What experience & insights from your retail career can you pass on to other retailers?

The market is constantly changing, you have to change with it. You have to be open to new ideas, you can’t be stuck in your ways. If it doesn’t work, you just keep changing until you get it right.

What are you doing in-store to attract new customers and establish relationships with existing clientele?

Keeping it fresh by changing the windows on a weekly basis and rotating stock to ensure the customer sees newness and constantly gets inspired.

Capturing a database is very important in attracting new customers and keeping loyalty with existing customers.

Campaign brochures, point of sale , signage etc also keeps the customer informed and updated. This kind of marketing collateral also helps in reaching a wider audience.

Maintaining customer service is of the utmost importance, without it you don’t have a clientele.

When you are faced with new challenges in the retail industry, who do you consult? Do you have a group of retailers you regularly speak with? how does this help? Do you recommend this for other retailers?

It took me 20 years to work out who was more important – the customer or team? It’s the team.

I work closely with the team – they are my right hand, I only speak to them.

Department stores take note!

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There is a strong message in the fashion industry that states `innovate or die’ – do you think this statement is true? How do you innovate your retail store to compete with the increasing competition of online and overseas retailers (zara, topshop etc) setting up in Australia?

Very true! You must keep on moving and innovate… Just keep doing what you do best.

How often do you change your store’s visual merchandising? Why?

Weekly we like to keep it fresh.

Can you reveal some of your VM tips? What works well for your store?

Listen to your customer – most important VM and business tip!

You are about to present at the Fashion Exposed Business Seminar series with a retailer case study – what are some advice/tips retailers will take away from this session to implement into their own business?

Stay true to yourself and brand. Listen to others and your customer. Keep changing and evolving!

Excellent customer service and a loyal team is the essence to any successful business.

Watch the beautiful Feathers AW 14 campaign film;

MargaretPBOOK NOW to see Margaret Porritt present her Feathers Retail Case Study at the Fashion Exposed Business Seminars

Back by popular demand, Feathers Boutique owner and designer Margaret speaks candidly about her remarkable journey and in particular the hard fought battle of survival in these current difficult economic times.

Don’t miss this rare insight into one of Australia’s most iconic fashion retailers

For more information and booking details, visit fashionexposed.com

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