Based in: Shannon, Napier, New Plymouth, Cambridge and Te Awamutu
Open since: 2007
Oosh is a regional retail empire that’s built on empowering rural women. Founder Suzie Johnson chose the name after ‘Oosh’ was tagged into the side of her first store in Shannon, which she opened after putting her husband through university selling jewellery and paintings at markets.
The Shannon location was chosen because it was affordable, close to home, and 18,000 cars drove past it each day: “The town was really tired, so we could afford to buy the building as well.”
Johnson soon moved into designing and selling womenswear in response to customer demand. When her fledgling retail concept took off, Johnson began implementing a wider retail vision.
She opened additional branches in five other small towns around the central North Island, along with a factory in Napier to produce the clothing, which is all made in New Zealand.
“It means we can control our quality, and I’m really passionate about Kiwis and jobs,” she says.
Owning the entire supply chain also gives Oosh an advantage over its competitors in terms of agility, Johnson says: “If a style rocks, I can put it straight on the website.”
Johnson ramped up Oosh’s social media marketing after closing the company’s Woodville store, and online now accounts for 50 percent of Oosh’s sales.
The company’s sizing goes up to XXL. Johnson says catering for diverse shoppers is a core part of the company’s brand identity – its online copy talks about “real women” and emphasises comfort.
Staff are given training which allows them to offer styling services based on flattering particular body types, which Johnson has codified into five different categories: ‘Bootylicious’, ‘Busty Babe’, ‘Hour Glass’, ‘Sweet Petite’ and ‘Tummy Temptress’.
“You have to have that extra great service these days,” Johnson says.
“The Oosh experience”, as she calls it, includes this styling service, plus a chat, and even toys for any children accompanying the shopper.
“So many shops you go into these days, people don’t even say hello,” Johnson says.
She delivers her message of empowerment and style through speaking engagements held around New Zealand, often for charity fundraisers.
Among her 42 staff are many mothers and grandmothers, not to mention farmers’ wives. Johnson herself is a mother of five children under 14, all of whom help out in stores. Using savings from their wages, the Johnson kids have clubbed together to purchase a house in Levin. Clearly, Johnson isn’t the only ambitious member of her family.