After a shaky few years, Brand Collective’s Black Pepper is on the front foot and looking to grow. The Australian womenswear retailer consolidated through the Covid-19 pandemic, closing stores while also focusing on its growing online presence. But with a new owner, and new funding, the business is set to reclaim some of its scale. According to general manager Rachel Digby, Black Pepper is set to open a number of new stores in 2023, and is already investing in making its existing s
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ting stores more “luxurious”.
“It’s a very considered, strategic [expansion],” Digby told Inside Retail.
“At the end of the day it’s still a hard landscape right now. You don’t want to get ahead of yourself [and overextend], but there’s definitely some untapped areas that we have the potential to move into.
“We’ve got a great online business, and we’re currently on an amazing growth trajectory. Just like anybody, [the pandemic] was a bit of a tough time… but we’re on the path to open new stores, and it feels like a fresh start.”
Part of that ‘fresh start’ comes from the fact that Black Pepper, together with the rest of former-owner PAS Group’s brand portfolio, was subsumed by Brand Collective in 2022 – which delivered fresh funding and a new audience.
The PAS Group deal, which was finalised in April 2022, aggregated 26 brands and 15 character licences, which operate across 300 retail locations across Australia and New Zealand and employ 3000 staff.
“We’ve been [more] able to invest [because of that deal] so there’s been a bit of focus on that,” said Digby.
“It means [that] we’re able to grow on the product side, and grow on the store side.”
Comfortable and confident
Part of the reason for the business’ success, Digby said, was its strong connection to its customers. And, with the announcement that journalist Jo Hall will act as the brand’s ambassador moving forward, Black Pepper is hoping to reach more like-minded people.
“We wanted to bring somebody on board that would resonate with our customers,” Digby said.
“It was really important to find somebody that is well trusted, and because of her legacy delivering the news, she has built that trust up.”
Hall’s ambassadorship is part of a larger effort by the brand to get in front of new customers, and help them to better understand what Black Pepper can offer: Digby noted the many times she has heard a potential customer say, “I didn’t realise Black Pepper did this”.
“We’re serving a much wider spectrum of people,” Digby said.
“I think Black Pepper is a brand to watch, and we’re very comfortable and confident in the space we’re in. [The brand] has really flown under the radar for a number of years, and we’re a relative newcomer to the mainstream shopping precinct, so it’s important for us to help new customers to see us for what we are.”
And despite the challenging macroeconomic conditions facing the retail industry, Digby said she isn’t concerned about the business’ success in the short-term due to its target customer, traditionally middle-aged women, being less impacted by cost-of-living increases than their younger counterparts.
“I feel like we’re bucking the trend right now,” she said.
“Even though we’ve had all this cold weather throughout summer, we’ve had such a great season, and I think that’s a testament to the product we’re creating right now.
“I’ll always be conservative in what we have ahead of us, but remembering that our customers probably don’t have the same mortgage pressure, and probably have cash in the bank, always works in our favour.”