The accessories brand’s managing director reveals the two women who have inspired her most and the biggest lessons she’s learned. She also describes the appeal of the brand’s new makeover, how the industry has evolved over the years and where it’s headed now, her own leadership style, and what cactus has to do with the years ahead. Inside Retail: You’ve worked for some major iconic Aussie brands, including Sportsgirl, Just Group, Cotton On and Myer. Who were some of the most inspiring
ng leaders you’ve worked with during your career and what did you learn from them? Sarah Rovis: I have been so fortunate to work on some incredible, iconic brands in Australia. For me, the most inspiring leaders are those who set a clear vision and an even more clear strategic roadmap to achieve that vision. Visions without a plan are often hard for team members to embrace and deliver. When a leader develops a clear vision and accompanying roadmap that can be articulated with clarity and specificity, with hard KPIs and measures, team members can easily align their roles and day-to-day tasks to the vision and embrace the journey to deliver. It is also incredibly rewarding when team members can relate their day-to-day tasks, individual performance metrics and cultural behaviours to the end goal of the brand. Company culture and values are another part of this. Without them, strategy will never be successful. I would say the most inspiring leaders on my journey, from whom I have learnt these valuable lessons, have been Elle Roseby who is now managing director of Country Road (I am lucky enough to be working with her once again), and Rachel Kelly who is now on various boards and investing in new business opportunities. Early in my career, when most leadership roles were very male-dominated, there were few strong female leaders in the workplace to look up to. Elle and Rachel were two who stood out to me then, and I still admire them today. Sarah Rovis, Mimco MD. (Source: Supplied) IR: What were some of the most valuable lessons you learnt in those roles that you’ve implemented into your current role at Mimco? SR: We have recently carved out a bold and ambitious strategic three-year plan. This has board approval and engagement from every member of the Mimco team and our Country Road Group (CRG) partners. The most valuable lessons in setting out this plan were to share a clear vision to give the team direction, learn to be brave enough to make significant changes to the business, and show vulnerability and honesty. No one knew all the answers or if the strategy was going to work, but we believed in it, backed it and engaged the teams to bring them along on the journey. We asked them to not only contribute to the delivery of the strategy but also to support it every day, ‘come on board’ and really dive in. This was off the back of a pretty tough two years with Covid-19 lockdowns. Through sharing the vision and engaging teams in what we believe, we make our team members feel like they are a part of something incredibly exciting and can share in the success of our achievements – not just sales but positive in-store service scores, high online product ratings and growing brand awareness. IR: You’ve worked in fashion retail for almost your entire career. What is it about the industry that you find most compelling – what keeps you engaged? SR: No two days, months or years are the same. I have worked across many brands and in many roles and had the great pleasure of being exposed to so many different elements of brands and business. Even today my role is incredibly varied, and I am still always learning. Retail has changed so much over my career – from shopping centres and strip shops to what we have now in cross-channel customer experiences and constant technology innovation. And it’s the customers who have often led and demanded this change. It has been amazing to experience the innovation, and it is the constant change in our industry, enabling continual learning and innovation, that keeps me engaged. IR: What are some of the industry trends you’re most interested in right now? SR: Whilst digital is now far beyond a trend, the growth of online and Mimco’s investment in digital are ongoing and this is an area that I find continually interesting and evolving. It’s not just about an online store, but continued improvements in supply chain and customer service. From new partnerships with digital partners such as The Iconic, to the development of our own Mimco App (launching mid-year) and how this will improve our customer offer and experience across so many dimensions, including loyalty and in-store. With customers becoming more conscious about sustainable practices, we have learnt and introduced new technologies such as materials made from apple peel and cactus to manufacture vegan bags. We also have product ranges that are made from upcycled gems and jewels from our archive. And of course, post-Covid, the return to stores has been a trend that is exciting and so rewarding for our store teams. We are welcoming our much-loved customers back to our boutiques, to our new store concept at our flagship destination in Chadstone, and soon to our shop in Sydney Westfield. It’s not only the most perfect timing, as customers embrace shopping in stores again, but also an incredibly exciting opportunity to share Mimco’s new direction with them. IR: Mimco sits in a really interesting ‘masstige’ space. What are your thoughts on the evolution of that category and how does a brand thrive in that space? SR: I feel the industry has changed so much since Mimco was founded 25 years ago, and even more again in the last five years. There are more design-led bespoke entrants who are developing beautiful products. Luxury brands have become more accessible through off-shoots or variations of size and material, creating a lower entry price, and now some have recently moved away from this and are starting to re-establish themselves as true high-end luxury. The category has also shifted through rent and recycle model growth. However, Mimco holds a unique offering. We offer accessible prices. We are still designing, with a team of Melbourne-based designers, and we seek the highest quality materials. We are not luxury, but we offer premium quality with bespoke design through a large store and online network, so many can access the brand. Not many other brands offer this in Australia and our customers love us for this. We believe that with our continual evolution of our products, stores and digital experience, we will continue to thrive in this space as an Australian success story. IR: If we asked your team, how do you think they would describe you as a retail leader? SR: I think they would say that I am an honest and approachable leader, one who encourages the team to have a voice and share opinions. No one has the right answer and we often explore ideas together. I think they would say that I am a pretty relaxed person who doesn’t stick to a hierarchy, and who enjoys the contribution of every team member to what makes Mimco great. I hope they would say that I take on their feedback and views to evolve what we do, as I really do value their contribution. Finally, I hope they would acknowledge the importance I place on creating a strong, diverse culture and aligning the way we work and behave to our values. Great work can be great work, but a great culture where people are supported and valued makes doing great work a lot more enjoyable and rewarding. IR: Can you tell me a bit about how the Mimco brand is changing? How is it aligning with what customers want or standing out from the pack? SR: We have made some pretty significant changes at Mimco over the past 18 months. This is in support of driving the brand into the future and continuing to be known as one of the most loved Australian accessory brands. Some of these changes have had risk around them and the impact has not always been known, but we have been brave, and the results are starting to show in business performance, brand perceptions and customer growth. We have reduced our ranges, exited categories, pulled out of promotions and closed stores – all these things traditionally drove sales, yet these sales were not always driving a strong brand perception, were often a short-term fix not viable commercially in the long run. So, we took a big risk in changing the business and rebuilding the brand and we are seeing incredible success because of it. Our collections are more fashion-focused and a higher mix of the range, we have recently opened a new boutique concept at Chadstone, and we are investing more in our marketing and in-store environment. This success was unquantified and unknown at the onset. It takes leadership, a willingness to take risks and team support to drive change and to be honest about what is working and what is not. This stems not just from my role as managing director, but also from CRG CEO Raju Vuppalapati, who has been driving us to strive to be the best brand in the market we can be. The Mimco reset is working; research shows the brand is being perceived in a more positive light – as a desirable brand with design and fashion credibility, and high-quality products and experience. IR: You’ve also launched a new flagship at Chadstone recently, with another to launch soon in Sydney – can you tell me about these new stores? How do they align with the new brand, and how do they differ from what Mimco has done before? SR: This month, we opened a new boutique concept at our flagship destination, Chadstone. The new concept reinvents the way customers experience our brand and our product. With product presentation at the forefront of our new design, the store presents an environment grand and monumental in scale, but intimate in detail. The new boutique heralds unique brand moments such as arches and curved architecture, which acknowledge our iconic button motif. Yet, the grand architecture of the store still acts as the perfect frame to showcase the most intimate details of our collection. We’ve been receiving such positive feedback from our customers and store teams – it is a totally new concept, and the product, space and environment allow our customers to experience the very best of Mimco products and services. IR: With all the changes happening in the world at the moment, what do you think the next few years look like for Mimco? SR: I am excited about the future for Mimco. With global changes including the post-Covid return to stores and physical shopping, we’ll be rolling out our new store formats, expanding our retail footprint in new channels and focusing on our range to design and deliver what our customers know and love us for in bags and jewellery. With the increasing demand for more vegan options and focus on sustainability, we will continue to drive innovation in our materials such as bags made from cactus and other new materials. We will continue the journey to drive brand salience and be present for customers on multiple channels – such as our upcoming mobile app – and look for new ways to build our customer experience across all digital and physical channels. We’ve had an incredible 25-year history at Mimco and we’re excited to grow into the next 25.