Fashion label moves with changing times

By Ingrid Tiriana

Designer and store owner Kelly Coe has targeted pricing and online presence to stay ahead of the game in tough economic times.

The owner/operator of women's fashion label and stores Augustine is managing to expand her business despite the economic climate by dropping her prices and increasing the online presence of her business. Mrs Coe runs three stores - at Mount Maunganui, Ponsonby and Newmarket - which sell her special occasion clothing and upmarket casual designs and also wholesales to 30 boutique stores around New Zealand and sells online.

Dropping her prices and increasing volume in the hope her wholesale clients would see the potential to sell more at lower prices meant taking a huge risk and maintaining online promotions and marketing is practically a full-time job, but both are already paying off.

In just a month, sales across the board have increased markedly and demand has increased.

"About 80 per cent of what we sold used to sit at price points between $200 and $300 and we found that items of between $180 and $199 were flying out the door but a lot of what cost more than that was being put on lay-by and we were selling little over $300," says Mrs Coe.

"We did some research, talked to our wholesalers and debated for quite some time and talked to a lot of people before deciding to drop our prices. We've taken a cut in our bottom line to do it; our margins are a lot smaller now but we hoped we could increase our volume to make up for it. It was a huge risk but it's already paying off."

Mrs Coe says it's difficult to say if all of the increase in sales can be attributed to dropping the prices because it's now the busiest part of the year for her business but there's plenty of evidence to suggest it has made all the difference with wholesalers who have doubled and in some cases tripled their orders.

Meanwhile, the business is putting a lot of effort into its online presence, particularly through Facebook, constantly putting up new designs to ensure Augustine is always up to date for online shoppers.

"The online stuff is constant, it's almost a full-time job and there are new things being created all the time - Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram - you have to stay on top of it all and everything has to be integrated."



Mrs Coe's designs are manufactured in China where she uses a boutique company and she says that, and the quality of her clothing, won't change as a result of the price drop.

"We have a lot of loyal customers because of the fabrics we use, the quality of the product and the fact the clothes are different to what they can get elsewhere. It will be important to maintain quality," she says.

She is looking to continue growing all aspects of her business and breaking into the Australian market via Western Australia where people haven't been as hard hit by the downturn in the world economy.

"There's a lot of interest in the label from Australia. Three stores is enough for now so we will particularly look to increase our wholesaling around New Zealand and in Australia and look to increase online sales, especially overseas," she said.

"We haven't optimised our website yet but will be looking at that in the near future. That's where the real growth is."

Mrs Coe estimates about half of Augustine's sales in the past month have come through online channels.

"Every time we put up a new design on Facebook we get a bunch of inquiries from people wanting to order," she said.

Mrs Coe says having a strong online presence is vital as the number of online shoppers continues to grow and staying fresh and up-to-date is vital.

It makes for a real balancing act, making sure wholesalers aren't scooped by online promotions, but it's a challenge Mrs Coe relishes.

"It's definitely a new retail world these days and it is tough out there but we started the business during the recession so haven't really known much different and we've still kept growing. We're also lucky we have a short turnaround and we have new styles coming out all the time," she said.

"Nothing is easy in retail these days. You can't just sit at the shop counter and expect people to come in. You have to be creative in what you do and how you attract business and it's hard work but I love it, it's fun."

- Bay of Plenty Times

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