Billabong’s Shannan North and Susan Branch On Brand Direction, Focusing On Core Retail & SurfStich & Swell.com Sale
Interview by Kelsey Smith & Kailee Bradstreet
We recently had the chance to sit down with Billabong‘s new Global Brand President Shannan North and Global GM, Billabong Women’s Susan Branch, to hear more about how the new executive team is coming together to focus on a product-specific marketing strategy. The team is especially honing in on its core retail accounts, which have been leading the way for the brand with sales in key categories like swim and boardshorts. Billabong has also launched its very first women’s global campaign, “A Bikini Kind of Life,” that is meant to directly support the men’s global campaign, “Life’s Better in Board Shorts.”
Part of the company’s strategy moving forward was also outlined in Billabong’s recent announcement to sell Surfstitch and Swell.com, two e-commerce retail businesses, as a way to re-invest the brand’s resources in the core of its business.
Here’s what North and Branch had to say. Click through the gallery below to take a look at some of Billabong’s marketing and merchandising from this summer’s tradeshow circuit.
Why did Billabong see this as the right time to sell Surfstitch and Swell.com?
Shannan North: The timing is consistent with our stated strategy which was to re-evaluate non-core assets and focus on our brands.
How does this sale help better position the company as Billabong moves to a direct to consumer omni-channel model across its global operations? What will that strategy look like, and when and how will we start seeing it at the consumer level?
North: The sale really helps free up resources to re-invest into our branded platform. The branded platform requires a completely different approach, to multi brand sites. Our branded platform is a mix of both brand engagement and digital commerce, as opposed to Swell which is primarily all about digital commerce. Consumers will begin to see changes pretty soon as we have begun to speed up improvement initiatives on our current platform while we work on building a new global omni platform in the background.
What will the continued partnership between Billabong and Surfstitch/Swell look like?
North: Surfstitch and Swell will be a normal wholesale account.
In what ways will you be looking at strengthening your online e-commerce and digital marketing presence with Billabong in particular?
North: We have elevated digital marketing as a focus internally and this is driving a change in the way we think about and execute against every single brand activation.
We are recalibrating more than ever with our design and marketing, and it’s working.
Susan what are your thoughts on Billabong’s Women’s business?
Susan Branch: It’s fantastic. I joined the organization 7 months ago and what I would say is the brand has been and remains very, very strong. The product is performing incredibly well, and has been for a number of years. In the Amercias region it’s the number one brand across most categories in surf specialty shops, except for footwear and accessories. We are about ready to change that, though. [Billabong launched its new women’s footwear collection at Surf Expo last week. See photos from our Surf Expo September 2014 gallery here.] It’s the same in Australia—number one in surf specialty. We have a bit of work to do in Europe, that went through a difficult time, so we are focused on the European region, but as far as where we are focused on the women’s side as a brand it’s really amplifying our big ideas and stories, and putting more attention on the merchant-led part of the business.
What does that look like?
Branch: Building corporate line plans, proper architecture. Focusing on the categories where we really think we can win as a brand, swim being a good example. And then just stepping on the gas. We haven’t really been focused on product marketing specifically so that is a big focus for us as well.
Branch: I think just a different philosophy perhaps. It’s in line with our strategy and our vision. Let’s focus on areas where we can win as a brand. For the first time ever, we have a women’s global campaign called “It’s a bikini kind of life” and it’s meant to be a compliment to the men’s campaign, which is “Life’s better in Board Shorts.” So they sit really nicely together and state of mind and our best categories. When you tie that back to a really product specific campaign that focuses on swim, it’s an area where we can really win as a brand. It’s an exciting time. It really helps when you chose a lane where you are going to be focused and the design and innovation that comes out of that is pretty powerful.
Do you have some examples of specific products or stories that your retailers are seeing and have voiced that is what the consumer is looking for from Billabong as a brand?
Branch: I think we have a few examples on the women’s side. I think a few things we haven’t exploited in the past is really curating our story at retail. We are going to really focus on investing and pouring into the core in a greater way, with a stronger investment in trade marketing, and building shop concepts in store. That will make a huge difference going forward. If you think about a product focused marketing campaign and how it comes to life in store. The other way is telling our curated brand story but also leveraging things like the brand has always done a great job on the women’s side of styling moments – the more ways than one of how you wear it, how you put it together – and we really want to take advantage of that and how it comes to life in store. Showing our consumer how she can wear a bikini top in more ways than one, back to a cut off denim short, back to a beach pant, underneath a tank top.
Can you speak a little more on the continued focus on the core retailer and consumer?
North: With everything we do moving forward, it’s going to be centered on that distribution at specialty retail. The core customer being the retailer and also the core consumer, and really focusing on board shorts for men’s, and swimwear for women’s, and of course after that T-shirts and apparel. But really focusing on the foundation categories.
Will your focus be more technical or style driven?
North: We always have a good balance between function and fashion. We always break new trends and styles, we certainly aren’t a one-dimensional brand. If you look at our athlete roster, which represents the brand quite well, we have world champion Joel Parkinson, Taj Burrow, and [Dave] Rastovich. [We are now putting] a bigger investment in marketing and a bigger investment in design.
Talk a little about the management structure now?
North: Total alignment in management. The founder, Gordon, himself is very active and that’s fantastic. He’s involved in product all the time.
Shannan, you were based in Australia before coming on board in your new role?
Yes. I was the Asia Specific General Manager and now am the Global Brand President for Billabong. It’s simpler in some ways now; there’s only one brand to worry about.
What does the branded focus look like?
North: It’s really about going back to all the fundamentals that make Billabong as famous as it is. Going back to progressive product and progressive marketing. Zeroing in, and with that, growth will follow. It’s working.
Just focusing on the core retail accounts you are already in, and not trying to expand into any other distribution channels?
North: Yes. We are number one in specialty and we need to make sure we hold that. We don’t want to chase something we don’t have and lose what we’ve got.
North America is obviously a big focus, but what about overseas?
North: Yes, Europe is a big focus as well. We are working really closely with the US team and that’s why we have both roles in the US business. Seasonality wise it makes a lot of sense to focus on Asia and Europe. We are in the execution phase now, because we’ve really pulled the strategy and the team together. It’s good to be making stuff happen.