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Aussie boot brand to double wholesale accounts and open two UK stores

Heritage Australian lifestyle brand RM Williams wants to open two more UK stores and plans to double its wholesale accounts as it prepares to launch a “brand overhaul” at Bread & Butter Berlin next week.

The brand’s business development director Don Ernens told Drapers he would like to open two new stores in London and secure at least 500 European wholesale accounts by the end of 2015 - up from the 250 it already has.

RM Williams, which is best known for its leather boots but also sells clothing and accessories for men and women, was established in 1932 by its eponymous founder as a bootmaker for Australian bushmen. After experiencing year on year sales growth of 49% in 2012 and profits of $3.8m (£2.2m), the private equity arm of luxury giant LVMH, L Capital, took a 49.9% stake in the brand for an undisclosed sum in June 2013. Following a year of what Ernens called “building traction” under L Capital’s investment, RM Williams is now seeking to expand and revamp its image.

It has 160 UK wholesale accounts – such as Philip Morris & Son and Brocklehursts of Bakewell - and Ernens said he is keen to extend this through “mid-to-high end indies, multiples, and luxury department stores.” Retail prices range from £140 to £350 for boots, with a markup of 2.5.

The brand trades from a 1,804 sq ft store at 102 New Bond Street, in London, but is looking for two more UK stores between 1,000-2,000 sq ft in the Covent Garden and Spitalfields areas, in keeping with “the more contemporary feel” it is seeking to develop. It has not appointed property agents but is searching for the property itself. It plans to open the stores by the end of 2015. RM Williams will also open stores of a similar size in Stockholm, Oslo, Gothenburg and Copenhagen during the same time period.

RM Williams will use Bread & Butter Berlin next week to launch a refresh of the brand. The “brand overhaul” will highlight to visitors a revamped shopfit, product and branding. RM Williams will also exhibit at both Moda UK and Amsterdam, and Jacket Required in London this year. Ernens said the push was needed as “we’ve always performed very well in Australia, but so far we’ve remained under the radar in the UK.”

The rebrand will align the label with luxury European brands such as Lobb, Church’s and Tod’s, Ernens said. He added the label will be differentiated from its European rivals by its Australian heritage and its unique boot design, which uses just one piece of leather per shoe.  

The new lines will have “a more modern, European sensibility,” that will include 250 SKUs for footwear, 180 for clothing, and 25 for accessories, comprising bags and belts.

Shopfits will be redesigned using wood, leather and metal materials to match the more contemporary design of the products.

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