Zumiez rationalises, relies on emerging brands to offset US retail slump
In the first six months of the 2017 fiscal year, closed on 29th July, US board sports distribution specialist Zumiez recorded a 6.3% growth in sales compared to the previous year, reaching $373 million, with comparable sales rising by 3.3%.
The increase was notably driven by a strong second quarter performance, with an overall upturn of 7.8% and comparable sales up 4.7%. In North America, the group's sales rose by 6.4%, while the rest of the world (Europe and Australia) posted a remarkable 27.1% increase, totalling $15.7 million in the quarter. No double-digit growth in America then but, given the US retail's current, sustained downturn - and that of sport distribution in particular - such a performance would be a real challenge.
The ideal consumer target for Zumiez are 12-20 year-olds, and thanks to them, in the last fiscal year, the group managed to stabilise its annual comparable sales, after losing more than 5% in the 2015 fiscal year.
Zumiez also owns the Blue Tomato retail brand in Europe, for which it plans a handful of openings by the end of the year, and Fast Time in Australia. The group's first move to get back on the growth track was to rationalise, cutting the number of stores (currently they are 657 in North America) and keeping a close watch on their profitability. The latter is a priority, since Zumiez's operating income keeps deteriorating, with a $7.3 million loss this year on top of the $4.8 million one a year earlier. The group's strategy is to renegotiate rents and review its commitments for existing stores, to renovate the ones which need a face-lift and to open new ones in top locations only.
"We are focused on not having even one store more than is necessary to respond to our customers' needs in each geographical area, said General Manager Rick Brooks. We are less confident than we were before in the long-term viability of any one location. We are concentrating not just on cutting rental costs but also on shortening lease terms, in order to reduce risk and increase our flexibility. "
Despite these efforts however, Zumiez's sales growth appears to be driven chiefly by its commercial strategy. The group has in fact deployed a series of initiatives focused on its online and in-store customer relationship. "Through this level of engagement, we are able to have our finger on the pulse in terms of local trends, said Brooks. This allows us to offer a hyper-localised, authentic product range, while at the same time providing a more personalised brand experience to our customers."
Each year, Zumiez picks 100 emerging labels to address these highly targeted requirements, integrating the selection of more established brands it regularly features.
"There are a certain number of brands that are about to upgrade from the status of 'emerging' to that of ‘growth-driving’ brand for us, said Rick Brooks. And when I talk about new brands, I don't mean private labels. I refer to young designers and brands which are launching their products with us and at their local stores, it's something we do all over the USA. It usually takes up to three years to be able to assess if any of these brands can go further. But right now, we are clearly benefiting from the energy of these emerging brands. And I believe we can support their growth not just in the USA, but also in Canada, Europe and Australia."
Of course, the risks involved are sizeable: out of one hundred brands, only a few will become major labels tomorrow. But this is Zumiez's gamble, staying at the cutting edge and benefiting from the success of some of its nuggets.
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