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Exclusive: RM Williams sees 'enormous' growth potential

Australian footwear brand RM Williams has big plans to expand in the UK, the CEO told Drapers.

“Our business has performed extremely well in the past three years, delivering growth across every channel and geography, and the strong momentum in the business gives us great confidence that these trends will continue”, Raju Vuppalapati, CEO of RM Williams, said.

RM Williams generated revenues of A$158m (£83m) in the year to 30 June, compared with $142m (£74.6m) in 2018. EBITDA grew to A$23m (£12m) in the same period, compared with A$16m (£8.41m). 

RM Williams

RM Williams

The heritage brand, which is part-owned by actor Hugh Jackman, was founded in 1932. As well as footwear, it sells denim jeans, belts, bags and wallets. Its international retail product mix target is approximately 75% footwear, 15% apparel and 10% leather goods and accessories.

Retail prices range from from £375 for the Craftsman, Turnout, Adelaide and Yearling boots to £600 for the Signature Craftsman boot. The made-to-order range is dependent on the leather and customisation choices.

The company currently has 70 standalone stores worldwide (65 in Australia, three in the US and two in the UK) and one franchise store. It has around 1,000 wholesale doors.

Vuppalapati, who joined RM Williams as CEO in 2014, said: “We see enormous potential to grow the business internationally and are in the early stages of an exciting international growth strategy focused on the US, UK and select Western European markets.”

“Our international growth strategy is focused on expanding across key target cities, built around city-centric RM Williams stores to deliver the full brand experience, with premium department stores and specialty retailers to drive reach and saliency. We will use our own ecommerce and premium pureplay online partners to deliver national coverage and we will make significant investments in A&P to grow our brand awareness, focused on brand story-telling in these key cities.”

RM Williams opened its first store in the UK nearly 30 years ago. It currently sells through two flagship stores in New Bond Street (which opened 12 years ago) and Soho (launched 18 months ago), as well as more than 100 specialty retailer doors, and a partnership with Mr Porter. Vuppalapati said the company’s plan is to have four RM Williams stores and to add 80-plus department store and specialty retail doors by 2024.

RM Williams New Bond Street Store

RM Williams New Bond Street Store

He said: “The UK is a very attractive market for us, and we know we have a product which resonates with UK consumers – who value quality, craftsmanship and heritage. We are growing across all our channels [in the UK]. We delivered 15% like-for-like growth in retail and 7% wholesale growth last year.”

Elsewhere, RM Williams currently sells through three flagship stores in New York, Austin and LA, alongside wholesale partners and select Bloomingdale’s and Nordstrom stores. The brand plans to open 18 stores in 12 key cities in the US over the next three years, and grow its wholesale door count by adding more than 150 doors by 2024.

Vuppalapati added: “In Europe, we will continue to develop our wholesale partner network and open a further six retail stores in key cities across Scandinavia, Germany and France. In addition, we have recently launched in Italy across three doors in La Rinascente, the premium department store in that market, through a new partnership.”

“This is a very exciting time for RM Williams. We feel we have everything in place now to build a global, accessible luxury footwear brand – we have a product assortment that resonates with our target customer, a brand which reflects both where we’ve come from and where we are going, the right store concept and a supply chain that can support our growth forecast. Our focus now is on creating the brand awareness and investing in marketing in our core target markets to take this iconic Australian Brand to the world.”

Hollywood actor Jackman holds a 5% stake in the company.

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