How do you sell someone $35 socks when they can buy three pairs for $10 from a discount store?
It’s all about the story, Icebreaker general manager Australia and New Zealand Greg Smith says.
“For us, creating value is around making sure people are aware of the quality of the product - and we’re not worried about doing that. We’re actually saying, ‘We are different.’”
Icebreaker is different. For a start, it champions sustainability, and not just as a concept, but as a traceable fact.
The company is loud about making three-year contracts with Kiwi farmers, giving those farmers a surety that allows them to invest in their land, resulting in better fibre.
“That’s where Icebreaker differs from the rest,” Smith says.
Some Icebreaker products even contain “baacodes” which allow the wearer to find out exactly which farm their garment came from (unfortunately they can’t track the exact sheep just yet).
Because Icebreaker has such a tangible story, one of the company’s biggest investments is in people and training.
“What we’re trying to do in retail is have first-hand knowledgeable sales professionals explaining the benefits of the product and telling the Icebreaker story, because it is a unique story to the outdoor market – a story with true integrity,” Smith says.
Selling that story is paying off for Icebreaker.
The company made just over $200 million in sales in 2014, and is expecting to double that figure within the next five years.
It’ll be broadening out from its niche of functional outdoor wear to tap into the “fashionable and functional” sector we see booming in retailers like Lulu Lemon.
Online and overseas markets will both get a big push, buoyed by recent structural changes made by ex-Air New Zealand boss Rob Fyfe, who has been chief executive of Icebreaker for just over eight months.
“Structurally, Rob has empowered the international markets [Europe, the US, Canada and Australia] to run the businesses themselves. Now head office is more of a support centre, when before it was telling the markets what to do,” Smith explains.
Founder Jeremy Moon is back doing what he loves best – tapping into emerging markets and selling the Icebreaker story.
Greg says Jeremy’s ability to pass over the leadership to Rob is a testament to his leadership.
“Its such a huge thing to do for someone who it’s been their passion their whole life – it’s the only job he’s had, to be CEO of Icebreaker.
“Jeremy was able to look at that and see that if there’s anyone who can take Icebreaker to the next level, it’s Rob.”
This story was originally published in NZRetail magazine issue 736, March 2015.