Gone are the days when New Zealand retailers could expect to know the owner of every business on the high street personally – successive waves of international retailers have diversified the retail landscape significantly. Sarah Dunn decided to get to know the arrivals of 2019.
Back in 2015, Topshop arrived in Auckland with one heck of a bang. Owned and operated by Top Retail, a company which was shared between Barkers, Karen Walker and her husband, and Christchurch property investor Philip Carter, it took up a prime 1200 square metre multi-storey site at the corner of Queen St and Victoria St.
Its launch was the first example of what’s now become an established and expected pattern for the opening of large-scale international flagships. Excited consumers camped out overnight to secure a place at the front of a queue which snaked down three blocks; branded goods were given out to the first-in-line as coveted souvenirs; the doors opened with a party atmosphere that included in-store DJs and a dedicated social media zone. The queues continued for four days afterwards as Kiwi shoppers scrambled to load their baskets with products that were formerly difficult or impossible to obtain locally.
A Wellington store opened to similar fanfare in November 2016, but then, slowly, it all started to fail. By May 2017, Topshop’s troubles had picked up momentum, and its Australian stores were placed into voluntary administration following a decision to restructure.
On September 7, Topshop and Topman New Zealand franchise business was tipped into receivership. Less than three weeks after that announcement, Top Retail issued a notice indicating the brand would “no longer have a presence in New Zealand from Sunday” and was gone by the end of the month. Its marble-clad premises have now been filled by cosmetics giant Mecca.
The rapid rise and fall of Topshop was a wild ride, but unfortunately for some of New Zealand’s more squeezed domestic retailers, it wasn’t representative of international retailers’ typical experience in our market.
However, neither is the spread and spread of H&M, which speedily rolled out seven stores after launching in 2016. Since H&M’s entry, speedily followed by Zara, we’ve seen the pace of international entries picking up – you’ll find a list covering 2019 launches and announcements at the end of this article.
We wondered, what do all these launches mean? And who can we expect next?
The frost giants
A few days before Christmas in 2018, Swedish homewares giant Ikea filled many New Zealand consumers with festive joy when it ended years of speculation by confirming it would launch a New Zealand store.
Tolga Öncü, retail operations manager, Ingka Group, then said his company was aware of New Zealanders’ long-standing desire for a Kiwi Ikea.
“We are happy to meet the wish from many people for Ikea to open in New Zealand and we aim to make Ikea fully accessible, including stores and ecommerce. We see this as a long-term commitment and investment in New Zealand, building relationships with customers, suppliers and future co-workers.”
Ikea later clarified the store would eventuate in Auckland within two to five years’ time (now one to four).
While transport infrastructure, land leasing, and shipping constraints have all combined to slow Ikea’s Kiwi launch, another global Scandinavian brand has placed its first official New Zealand flagship as the centrepiece of the brand new Westfield Newmarket.
Danish toy company Lego opened its store at the end of October 2019. It was achieved through a partnership with Australian investment company Alceon Group, which announced in February it had gained the rights to open stand-alone certified Lego stores in Australia and New Zealand.
Its portfolio also includes Ezibuy, Pumpkin Patch, and Australian brands such as Noni B.
Alceon Group opened Australasia’s first certified Lego store in Sydney in March 2019.
The Westfield Newmarket Lego store is a custom-built interactive retail space. It offers Lego engraving, interactive screens, a create-your-own minifigure station, and a ‘pick a brick’ wall offering brand new bricks each week. Like other Lego stores worldwide, it includes 3D Lego models inspired by local icons – this store’s mascot is a bungy jumper.
Richard Facioni, executive director at Alceon Group, said at the opening event that the group had opened five Lego stores in the last few weeks. When signing the rights, Facioni said, he knew he had to open a New Zealand store within the year.
“New Zealand is home to a very large and growing group of Lego fans of all ages, so we’re really pleased to be able to open an official Lego store in Auckland.”
He feels New Zealand’s position at the bottom of the globe will provide a unique drawing point for Lego fans as it means that, whenever Lego releases new products, the New Zealand store will be the first place in the world they can be obtained.
The mall rats
Mark Knoff-Thomas, chief executive of the Newmarket Business Association, says Lego is “an institution”.
He reports that the hotly anticipated first official stand-alone Lego was a big hit for consumers. Knoff-Thomas says the team may even have been taken by surprise at its popularity, running out of a few stock lines rapidly.
“This shows the maturity of the New Zealand market, that these giant retailers can see the opportunities here.”
“At the end of the day, we’re a minnow at the bottom of the ocean.”
Knoff-Thomas says Westfield Newmarket has become a great place for brands to launch into New Zealand: “Obviously, with Scentre Group’s massive investment, it’s a massive vote of confidence in Newmarket’s primary trade area.”
“Westfield has been successful in curating a comprehensively wide range in terms of offering retailers that will entice people of all demographics.”
The retail offering is overlaid with a world-class hospitality offering, which Knoff-Thomas expects will be a game-changer in terms of Newmarket’s night economy.
“I heard somebody describe the refurbished food court as one restaurant with 14 kitchens.”
The first two international launches off the block at Westfield Newmarket were Lego and Australian furniture and homewares retailer Coco Republic. Coco Republic, along with 39 other retailers, launched during the first wave of Westfield Newmarket store openings at the end of August.
The mid-market retailer occupies a large site on the ground floor, with street frontage spanning the corner of Clovernook Rd and Broadway. It also has an espresso bar, L’Americano. The styling for each of Coco Republic’s cafes is inspired by a different character from the 1999 film The Talented Mr Ripley – L’Americano is Matt Damon’s character, Tom Ripley.
While New Zealand’s mid-range furniture category is ripe for disruption, Coco Republic’s main point of difference is its emphasis on service. All floor staff are both salespeople and qualified designers.
Anecdotally, Knoff-Thomas reports that Coco Republic’s Westfield Newmarket store was a monumental success that has exceeded expectations.
The second stage of Westfield Newmarket, located in the former 277 site, opened on October 21. New-to-New-Zealand retailers which have announced bricks and mortar stores in Westfield Newmarket include: Aje, Camilla, Coco Republic, Dr Martens, General Pants Co., Husk, Lego, Politix and Under Armour.
The store openings aren’t finished, however – Knoff-Thomas says by the end of Q3 2020, some 230 stores will be open in the complex, with new brands revealed week by week.
“[It’s] the rebirth of Newmarket as the epicentre of retail, entertainment and hospitality,” he says.
Another upcoming Auckland shopping centre, Precinct Properties’ Commercial Bay, has also announced a slew of launches into the New Zealand market. The first of its openings is slated for March 2020. Retailers debuting New Zealand flagships at Commercial Bay include: Calvin Klein, Dior Perfumes and Beauty, Furla, Herschel Supply Co., Maje, Sandro, Scotch & Soda and Tommy Hilfiger.
Managing a return to the market
The first New Zealand Politix store for some 10 years opened on November 21 at Westfield Newmarket, plus a concession stand at the centre’s David Jones flagship, which opened on the same date. Check out pg 8 for a look inside David Jones Auckland.
Scott Fyfe, chief executive of Politix owner Country Road Group, says the mid-market menswear retailer was present in New Zealand under former ownership during the early 2000s with a wholesale model, but the launch represents its first return to the country for more than a decade, and its first retail presence.
Country Road Group acquired Politix in 2016. Fyfe reports it’s had great success in Australia: “We think it will work really well for the New Zealand customer.”
The experience of bringing a brand to New Zealand backed by very established businesses is quite different to launching cold, Fyfe says. Country Road Group knows the Newmarket customer well as it has a strong sales system, and it’s crafted a physically-led store offering to suit those shoppers.
He feels the key to connecting with New Zealand shoppers, as an international brand, is to have a compelling brand story which includes a commitment to sustainability, and offer great value for money.
“I think the New Zealand customers are similar in some ways and different in others,” Fyfe says. “With the New Zealand customer, the similarities are that they’re discerning about the fashion that they want and they require, so that’s a global phenomenon.
“Obviously the New Zealand customers have seen an influx of more international brands, and they will continue to see that. I think for us, it’s actually talking to the New Zealand customers about stories behind the brands.”
Building on wholesale
Antony Hampson, general manager of Superdry Australia and New Zealand, presided over the opening of New Zealand’s first Superdry flagship on Auckland’s Queen St in April 2019. A company called the Brand Collective had managed distribution of Superdry product in New Zealand for more than 10 years, but strong year-on-year growth meant it was decided Superdry needed a monobrand or concept store in New Zealand.
“Where you’re limited with wholesale, it’s not possible for them to range the whole brand.”
With a proper monobrand store, Hampson says, a company like Superdry can take consumers on a complete brand journey.
The listed company has experienced some turbulence at the top this year. In April, founder Julian Dunkerton won his battle to rejoin the company after quitting in 2018, prompting the board to resign. Dunkerton has since worked to shift away from a promotion-driven strategy.
Hampson agrees Superdry overcapitalised with certain regions, opening too many stores too quickly, but is confident the New Zealand branch is here to stay. He says adequate due diligence was done before it opened, with a comprehensive business case exploring what fallout might be if the numbers didn’t stack up.
“We can do that because we’re not rolling out 100 stores,” Hampson says. “We’re not a fast fashion brand that has mass appeal.”
“When we’re opening 200 square metres, we need to be really confident we can generate the foot traffic that will make us hit the KPIs.”
The biggest lesson from Superdry’s launch into New Zealand is that the brand should have gone in earlier, Hampson says.
“[New Zealand] is perfect because we can drive our snow brand in Queenstown, [then] jackets in the cooler months, and graphic t-shirts and slides when it gets hot in the summer.”
“It really ticks a lot of the boxes and it’s also got high tourism.”
Hampson says New Zealand is a gentler market than some overseas: “I think New Zealand has been very protected from a lot of price wars.”
The New Zealand market differs from Australia in that Hampson isn’t seeing the same ebbs and flows – apparently Kiwis are more consistent shoppers. “Although they’re becoming price sensitive, they’re not quite there yet.”
Superdry has since opened a Queenstown store after launching into Auckland. While Hampson says both stores are exceeding their sales budgets, Superdry will sit back for 12 to 18 months and look for further opportunities as they arrive: “We don’t want to go too quick too soon.”
The next big thing
Professor Jonathan Elms is the Sir Stephen Tindall Chair Professor in Retail Management. He leads Massey University’s Bachelor of Retail and Business Management, New Zealand’s only retail degree.
He agrees Kiwi retail is flourishing right now, especially compared to what’s happening in the US, UK and Europe: “Despite lots of conversations around doom and gloom – consumer confidence, business confidence – things seem to be in pretty good shape.”
“You look around and things are vibrant… It’s a real interesting time, there’s some really cool, interesting, innovative stuff happening.”
Elms says the number one narrative heard around the launch of international brands into New Zealand is that of the misunderstanding or the underappreciation of cultural difference.
This is especially common where Northern Hemisphere brands have first launched into Australia: “It’s this assumption that Kiwis are very similar, if not the same as Australians, and that’s not, obviously, the case.”
Like Fyfe, he characterises the New Zealand market as being sophisticated but very discount-driven. Kiwi shoppers also behave differently to those across the ditch, favouring big-box stores less and doing more ‘shopping around’ for their purchases.
“Every day low pricing isn’t really a mantra that many Kiwis can associate with,” Elms says. “They often feel that they have to get a bargain and that will often be as a result of massive discounts and sales.”
Elms cautions that big, bold launch strategies designed to grab the attention of US and Australian shoppers won’t always impress Kiwis, thanks to the infamous Tall Poppy Syndrome.
“I think shouting from the rafters doesn’t necessarily work. Hyping up how good your organisation is and how successful it is doesn’t necessarily go down particularly well with Kiwis.”
Elms agrees H&M has been very aggressive in New Zealand, saying the 2020 launch of another H&M brand, Cos, is an indicator of its success.
He believes French beauty retailer Sephora will do well in New Zealand, despite the presence of both Mecca and Mecca Maxima less than 150 metres from its Queen St flagship. It opened in July, attracting a queue of more than 800 shoppers, some of whom camped out overnight to secure a place at the front of the line.
Above all, however, Elms believes that when Ikea eventually opens in New Zealand it will be a “big game-changer”.
“I think the turning point, which is going to put New Zealand really on the map, is going to be Ikea. To a lesser extent, Costco. I think that’s going to signal to other players internationally that New Zealand’s open for business.”
Elms predicts that the next tranche of international retail launches will include German discount supermarket chain Aldi, given how successful it’s been in Australia and places like China.
Where to from here?
It turns out that the closure of Topshop’s multistorey emporium on Queen St wasn’t the last New Zealand had heard of that brand after all. A couple of months after it left the market, Australian fast fashion pureplay The Iconic announced Topshop would join more than 700 brands on its platform.
Mareile Osthus, chief of category management at The Iconic, then said the arrangement would benefit Kiwis by giving them ongoing access to the brand’s products.
“Topshop is very much known for being fast with the trends and really picking up styles from the runway and translating them into the Topshop Topman way, so for us it’s a really good addition to our trend assortment.”
Topshop’s ecommerce return leads us to a pureplay that’s closer to home, TheMarket. Backed by The Warehouse Group, TheMarket launched as a brand-new retailer in August 2019. It’s a marketplace-style ecommerce model which as of early November had partnered with more than 200 stores, expecting to hit 400 within a few months. It stocks more than a million products over 1700 brands, with product categories ranging from designer fashion to power tools.
Its real point of innovation is its ‘MarketPoint’ locations. These leverage The Warehouse Group’s comprehensive store network to allow consumers to click and collect their goods from these and other locations nationwide. There’s even rural options operated by FarmSource.
It introduced an Amazon Prime-style subscription model called TheMarket Club in November, and includes other innovative features such as the ability to browse for goods by hashtag.
Elms describes TheMarket as “a battle statement” that’s indicative of how Kiwi retailers can and will compete with incoming internationals. He says The Warehouse Group and its partners are making a defensive and proactive move in leveraging assets which would be very difficult, or require a huge amount of investment, for overseas players to emulate.
Ultimately, Elms says, domestic retailers shouldn’t be too scared of international arrivals. The New Zealand retail scene continues to be vibrant, and launches create a buzz of excitement around shopping which stimulates consumer spending across the board, benefiting every retailer.
“Kiwi retailers, the successful ones, are successful for a particular purpose,” Elms says. “They know the market, they know the local consumer, they know the history, the cultural context. And that is a very big winning point for local domestic retailers. With competition comes innovation, comes change, and that’s good for everybody within the marketplace.”
This story originally appeared in NZ Retail issue 765 December 2019 / January 2020
Class of 2019
Here’s some big-name retailers which have launched into the New Zealand market or announced upcoming launches over the last 12 months.
-Dior Perfumes and Beauty
-General Pants Co.
-Herschel Supply Co.
-Scotch & Soda