Billabong eyes profitability, RVCA growth in 2018
Improving margins, improving margins, improving margins: these are the three main goals spelled out by Billabong's senior management team for the 2017-18 fiscal year, ending next June. In the last fiscal year, Billabong's revenue fell by 4.7%, to less than AUD975 million (€640 million), but the group managed to turn its EBITDA around, thanks to a fourth consecutive year of operating income growth in Europe, and painstaking work on profitability in the US.
On 21st November, at the group's AGM, Billabong CEO Neil Fiske insisted on the paramount importance of improving the group's financial performance and boosting its EBITDA. His main concern is the group's ability to return to profitability in the Asia-Pacific region, where EBITDA fell by 28% in the last fiscal year.
Fiske highlighted the troubled retail scenario in Australia as the main culprit for Billabong's woes, though he admitted that "we must do better."
"There are gaps in our product range, and we are weak in commercial execution. And we needed to change some of our managers," he told shareholders. "We have addressed these problems. Our efforts are concentrated on products, sales, e-commerce and retail."
On the product range side, Billabong is applying the formula which led to improved profits in the US, increasing the influx of new items in order to give its stores a more directional appeal. The strategy is beginning to bear fruit. Neil Fiske reported that comparable sales in Billabong stores grew 13% for swimwear, menswear and womenswear. "It's a positive sign, because the success of the rest of the range depends on these categories, which are crucial for the brand," he explained.
The reason why the group is keen, and indeed very proud to draw inspiration from its US results is that its market share for womenswear and menswear in US specialist surfing stores grew from 8.8% in 2007 to 18.6% in 2017, according to a survey by ActionWatch mentioned by Fiske. In the same segment and time period, the market share for RVCA grew from 3.5% to 6.7%.
Billabong seems to be putting a lot of faith in RVCA. The brand combines a skateboarding spirit with an artistic vibe, and has overtaken Element globally, so that it now accounts for 20% of the group's wholesale business (compared to a 55% share by Billabong, or Element (16%), while the group's other brands account for 9%).
According to Neil Fiske's presentation, RVCA has a lot of potential. It still only enjoys a sporadic presence in Australia and Europe, and it could quickly grow two and even three-fold.
Hence, the marketing investment Billabong is putting into RVCA, to drive e-tail and give the brand greater visibility. In Europe, RVCA is present through retail corners within the group's stores, but monobrand store openings are on the cards before the end of June 2018 in Bali, Tokyo and in California.
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