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For over a century, Canterbury has built a reputation for creating world-renowned apparel collections. Established in the New Zealand province of Canterbury in 1904, the company began its life manufacturing and supplying rugby jerseys. Backed by over 100 years of rigorous on-field testing, Canterbury is now the world’s largest rugby brand.

“The brand originally started out by making a number of products for the armed forces both in New Zealand and overseas,” says CEO Scott Chapman. “Of course, perhaps most famously made were the rugby jerseys, both on and off the field, which included the partnership with the All Blacks lasting 75 years. Canterbury has had a long history in sports and apparel manufacturing.”

No other apparel company in the world has the same heritage and tradition with rugby as Canterbury. It has also established itself as a market leader in other sports – its apparel is worn by world-leading rugby league, netball and cricket teams. Inspired by the success of its on-field apparel, Canterbury has developed highly recognized off field and training apparel collections.

“In more modern times, the business started to grow internationally and we formed offices in many jurisdictions throughout the world including the UK, Europe, North America, South America, South Africa, Japan and, of course, Australia and New Zealand,” Chapman says. “It is a brand that has stood the test of time and it is a brand with an authentic history.”

Only a few years ago, Canterbury was acquired by JD Sports, a UK publicly listed company which has a turnover of about A$1.5 billion. They saw a brand in Canterbury that needed some nurturing, and bought the brand globally back in August 2009. “They’ve been very supportive of both the brand globally and the Australian business in particular. Canterbury Australia definitely punches above its weight and we have certainly made our mark with the JD board, who have recognised that,” Chapman says.

Chapman has been associated with the company for a number of years. Originally, he was involved from more of a board perspective. In 2009, he was appointed CEO. When he took over, he sat down and went through the business “from top to bottom” with his core senior management team – himself, Chief Operating Officer John Faulds, the head of Wholesale and Retail, Nicole Pensko, and Clayton McErlane, the head of Teamwear.

“What are our brand values? What is our current customer base? What are our current product ranges? What are our customers looking for? Where do we see the business in four to five years time? What are our goals and visions?” According to Chapman, those were the questions they had to ask themselves. “We actually needed to start again with a blank piece of paper,” he says.

The management team stripped the company back down to its roots and built it back up with who they believed were the people they needed to fill those roles, and answer those questions. Laying out the foundations for its business, Canterbury made sure it focused on customer needs and understanding what they were.

In terms of its corporate culture, Canterbury believes in operating a fair organisation, and creates a family atmosphere within the business. Their culture is one of help, nurturing, support and understanding. “We push hard to make sure our people are good listeners, rather than good talkers. We do encourage all of our employees to contribute in any way they see fit,” Chapman explains.  “At the end of the day, work is very important to all of us, but our families are number one. We try to take that value from what we believe in our home lives and put that into our work lives,” he adds.

There are three main streams to Canterbury’s business – their Wholesale, Retail and Teamwear divisions. Wholesale represents about 45 per cent of the company’s turnover, while Teamwear is another 45 per cent, with Retail comprising the remaining 10 per cent.

Currently, Canterbury has around 100 employees. Approximately 30 per cent are placed in retail stores, while the rest are based at its head office in Brisbane, their sales, design and marketing office in Sydney, and elsewhere throughout Australia.

The company has eight retail stores in Queensland, New South Wales, ACT and Victoria. It also has two franchise stores, one in Cairns and one in Perth. “We have quite a diverse wholesale customer base in terms of their particular set up and business models,” Chapman says.

Canterbury’s customer focus makes it a brand that people can trust, and that’s what separates the company from its competitors in the marketplace. Strengthening customer relationships face-to-face is key. To do this, Canterbury has made a conscious decision to re-invest into the human resources side of its business by placing more reps and account managers out on the road.

“We encourage them to go to a lot of the smaller towns, not just the big cities, to spend time with not only the large customers, but also the small customers and explain to them what we do and why our brand will make a difference,” Chapman says. “This is at a time when other brands are turning more to national only and centralised accounts.”

The central challenge for Canterbury is competing in a crowded marketplace. To combat this challenge, Canterbury relies on both their customer service and their quality. “Quality is key to our products,” says Chapman. “We do not compromise on our quality. In any competitive market where you have to deliver better value for money, quality products are vital.”

Quality is key to the brand, has always been key to the brand, and that is certainly a USP of the brand. We would not give that up without a hell of a fight. It would never happen.”

“Quality is absolutely key to us,” he reiterates once more. “I don’t know how many customers have said to us ‘Gosh, I got one of your year 12 poly-cotton jerseys when I left school, and 10 years later the thing is as good as the day I got it.’ I hear that constantly. And it’s music to our ears. That quality is something we like to replicate throughout the whole consumer experience.”

Canterbury has seen a 30 per cent growth over last three years. Chapman credits the growth to the company’s team, their continuing focus on quality products – both new and “core winners,” – as well as servicing customer needs and wants.

Technology also plays a big part in the company’s growth. Canterbury’s online store, for example, has seen a 300 per cent increase in the last 12 months.  “We’ve just invested in a new retail online presence, which will come live in July. We see that as a massive opportunity for the company,” Chapman says.

Another important part of the Canterbury brand is an investment and focus on in-store staffing, which certainly helps to explain and sell the product.  Over the last three years, the company has increased staffing in-store by 15 per cent.

The future for Canterbury looks bright, filled with opportunities for growth through a re-investment into the brand – not only from a territorial prospective, but globally as well. And as the brand invests more, the company’s presence in the marketplace will also grow.  “We think the Australian sports and casual apparel landscape still has plenty of opportunities for us,” he says. “We don’t believe we are anywhere near the levels of penetration we need to be.”