Inside Franchise Business
EXCITING PATH AHEAD FOR RETAIL FAVOURITE
Aussie icon Clark Rubber is under new ownership. So what will this mean for the heritage brand?
By Sarah Stowe
“We could see our skill sets could be utilised within the business, giving it more bandwidth to grow and take it to the next stage of its lifecycle.”
FUN AND RESILIENCE IN RETAIL
Edward Plowman, who has spent more than 20 years in the debt and equity capital markets, says the retailer has shown it can stand up in testing times such as the pandemic. But it also has gaps in its product range that can be filled.
“Clark Rubber’s product mix is highly defensive in this environment but it’s a product mix that is uncorrelated,” he says. “We see a growth opportunity to add complementary bridge products for pools, rubber and foam. We see there’s a whole bunch of opportunities that bridge the gaps.
“And there is so much fun to be had, it is 75 years old next year, and we can tap into having fun. We loved that about the brand. It is a really unique business.”
The future is about evolving the business to offer more – more categories, more merchandise – that will appeal to customers from mums in their 30s through to grandparents, says Goldman.
“Chris Malcolm [former owner] had a certain focus which has been hugely successful. We’re looking at it a bit differently where we believe there is the opportunity to widen ranges and add categories.”
And there’s a big commitment to the physical stores.
Plowman says “If you look at other parts of the world, compelling digital businesses have taken costs out of traditional retailing. But if you look deeper, some investment is going the other way. Well-run digital retailers want to get back into bricks and mortar.”
Goldman highlights the continued presence of the Apple business in bricks and mortar stores as evidence that retail is about community.
“People still want to feel and touch. We’re social beings, we need to be interactive. Some products need expert advice and we see it as a good blend,” says Goldman.
“If there’s one business that could have
dominated online it’s Apple. Why do they have retailers? They are one of the top brands in the world. Because you create a community. You go and see the Genius [tech support staff], you feel part of the team.
“Do we have an ability to take some of the best ideas? Yes, as part of the community. Owners come from the community, so we look to create more of a community environment.”
AN OMNI CHANNEL APPROACH
The new owners will also be springboarding the online offering as part of a true omni channel approach which embraces the benefits of digital and continues to value the physical stores.
“We have a huge digital focus, but an amazing store footprint,” says Goldman. “From our perspective we are very excited because online sales don’t compete with franchisees online. We need to be able to have our stores open, when and where and how customers want to shop.”
The ecommerce allows the chain to test ideas quickly, he points out. “We can expand into complementary products that are relevant to our customer but not totally in a Clark Rubber store.”
As the new strategy is implemented, expect the digital and omni channel operations to be given a boost.
And even more exciting, there are plans for a fourth product offering that is as yet under wraps but set for a 2021 big reveal. There will be a highly considered rollout program and the pool category and vans will be crucial to this.
The new owners loved the concept of the mobile van franchise, introduced as a separate agreement in 2019.
Goldman points out “The key for the franchise network is being a service provider, it’s a huge part of what we want to do.”
EXPANDING WITH NEW FRANCHISEES
CEO Anthony Grice, ranked in the Top 30 Franchise Executives 2020, says the new ownership and developments are leading the brand into an exciting time.
“We have a platform to grow, we get fresh blood into the brand,” he says. “Franchisees can have a lifecyle, moving from a mobile to a small format store to a large outlet.”
It’s an ideal option for independent operators who are looking for security, particularly existing pool retailers.
“What will the future look like? Significantly bigger, and different,” says Grice.
“Already this year the business has doubled the number of team members in our network development team, whose primary focus is on new franchisee recruitment.”
Grice adds, “We doubled in Covid – that’s a strong indication in our desire to grow.”