Game on

haydon-gray_ppFrom small but ambitious beginnings in 1982, when it was established to take on the importation of Converse apparel in Australia, the Conquest Group has grown to become one of the country’s largest distributors of international athletic and lifestyle brands. We talk to CEO Haydon Gray, about the company’s growth and his plan to stay at the top.

Trade Express: The Conquest Group now has over 500 employees since being established. How has the business grown while still remaining family owned?

The business, while being privately owned, has always built its vision and structure around intended growth. This has served as the operating platform as we have gone about our different acquisitions. In my time, the owners have provided every opportunity in their immediate support of what we have identified as growth drivers. Due to what the business stands for— a strong culture, which is supported by strong ‘aligned’ planning and strong people will always ensure you achieve what you set out to achieve—the organisation still has today, some key senior managers who offer in excess of 15-20 years’ experience, and as we know you cannot replace that kind of capital. I have been very fortunate to receive their strong support (along with some talented new recruits) as we have continued to innovate and enhance how we operate across all business units.

We as a business are always challenging ourselves to improve how we operate. Our ability to work in a very structured, integrated manner sees all functions (Sales, Product, Marketing, Operations and Finance) very closely aligned. This unquestionably promotes stronger teamwork and efficiency and ensures we go-to-market fully buttoned up for the consumer.

Our consumer must feel connected to our brands and to ensure that occurs, everything we do—from the moment we ship the goods, to how we market and position, to conversion at Retail—the experience has to be as per our set ‘blueprint’.

A strong culture, which is supported by strong ‘aligned’ planning with people of the same mindset, will always ensure you achieve what you set out to. This has contributed significantly to the position we find ourselves in today and will continue to do so.

Trade Express: Conquest and sister company Authentics Australia distribute to 700 retail stores throughout Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific. What logistic and regulatory challenges have you faced in growing your business?

We have always regarded logistics as a critical pillar to our business. The operations function of our business or the ‘back end’ as we internally refer to it as, through our very cross-functional ‘ways of working’ is a very closely aligned function. It has provided us with a real point of difference I would have to say. Our ability to place, pick and pack at the turn-around pace we have been able to achieve has played a significant role in our growth—both vertically with our own stores, but also with our wholesale partners.

Being that our logistics function is run internally and not through 3PL (third party logistics provider—so managed externally), which is a decision the owners made many years ago, we are able to be very nimble and reactive (service oriented) in our approach.

With our projected forward plans, it made sense for our facility (DC), which is paramount to being able to meet the needs of the ‘front end’ of our business, to move locations—a move that would protect us well into the future! This today is unquestionably contributing heavily to our success. Our facility is second-to-none and we like to view ourselves as one of the most respected, trusted logistic providers to our accounts.

Yes, this involved a significant capital investment but one which was recognised as a must, as we looked to protect and grow our business. It was a pivotal move!

We haven’t faced any known regulatory challenges, however we do place a very strong adherence program and focus on our day to day compliance which obviously ensures the team are working in a very safe and effective environment. One that promotes tremendous productivity.

Trade Express: The internet has been a game changer for many in the retail industry. How have you adapted to the online marketplace? 

Being a consumer-led organisation with a youth target market, we have had to understand just what the internet has done, and has provided for our consumer.  Consumers expect everything in store to be available online. The consumer is also forcing retailers to provide service and accessibility he/she wants. There’s still one consumer, but multiple delivery points. This unquestionably has driven our behaviour in how we have operated both internally and with our strategic partners.  We’ve had to ask ourselves: What does our distribution strategy look like as we move forward in light of this landscape?

Consumers are wanting faster access to merchandise, so we must be up to delivering upon that quest across all channels. Further to this, as we look to ensure our brands deliver on this proposition, we have an authorised group of accounts who market and distribute our product on-line, while we also maintain our own website, which is in the midst of being further developed as we look to this being a much stronger ‘arm’ of our revenue stream. It’s obviously also the right thing to do for our brand and our consumer from an engagement point of view.

So, we have fully embraced e-retail and are very mindful of our business needing to operate as ‘one’ as we look to service both the off-line & on-line channels.

 Trade Express: What role has DHL played in the company’s success?

We use DHL as our exclusive trusted partner for our online business and all light freight with our international partners—both inwards and outwards. Their ability to deliver in a timely and accurate manner has ensured our reputation has not been undermined at any point.

Trade Express: You are one of Australasia’s largest independent distributors of international athletic and lifestyle brands. What are the company’s plans for future growth to keep up this momentum?

We will continue to explore our own vertical retail bricks-and-mortar opportunities, while continuing to also promote and grow our online business. Having said that, our wholesale business also remains pivotal as we look to not only maintain but grow our position in the marketplace.

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