Esprit International is a global manufacturer of apparel, footwear, accessories and jewellery. Their brand is international and youthful, and their aim is to offer smart, affordable luxury and “bring newness and style to life,” says Jeffrey Meggs, National Operations Manager for Esprit in Australia.
Worldwide, the group operates over 800 directly managed retail stores, and distributes their products via more than 14,000 wholesale locations. The brand occupies over 1.1 million square metres of approximate selling space in more than 40 countries.
The brand as a whole was founded in 1968 in San Francisco California by Susie and Doug Tompkins, who sold their first joint fashion line from a VW Bus. Their headquarters was their apartment. Over 20 years later, the company has expanded considerably, finding its way to Australia in 1991. The first Esprit store in this country opened in Melbourne, and is still running today – in addition to about 160 others that have popped up since then.
Meggs, National Operations Manager, began his work with Esprit almost seven years ago, when he was hired in Western Australia to be the state manager. Later, he was promoted to run the Victorian region. Even later, his role expanded to encompass Tasmania and South Australia as well. He served in that capacity for about a year and a half before being promoted again to where he is today.
Meggs says he was attracted to Esprit in the first place because it was a well known and respected company. “It’s a global brand,” he says. “It’s an iconic brand globally.”
One way in which Esprit sets itself apart in the global marketplace is their range of product. “First of all we offer apparel ranges to both genders, from a young age right through to mid life in terms of appropriate product,” Meggs says.
Another differentiator is their culture, which Meggs describes as both inclusive and inspiring. He says that while it might have been the brand’s reputation that made him want to walk through the door, but it was the corporate atmosphere that made him stick around. “Culture was a big part attraction,” he says. “It just felt right for me.”
In a business the size of Esprit, the employee numbers are always varying, but Meggs estimates they have approximately 1100 Australians working for the company. He says the culture applies to all of them. “The foundation of our culture here is based on three core values which are: have passion, challenge yourself, and be involved,” he explains. “They are all values I personally can assimilate to in the workplace, as well as outside of work.”
“A lot of my friends ask me about this, and I quite often say to them it’s the first culture I’ve worked in where I haven’t actually had to change too much of myself to fit in,” he adds. “It’s a non-hierarchical culture. Open communication is encouraged. Working across many departments is standard. Nobody is any more important than anyone else. We’re judged by our accountability and not our importance in the pecking order, like I’ve experienced in some other brands.”
That culture is a part of Esprit Australia and Esprit International that comes from the ground up – it is part of their core identity. The brand itself is 44 years old, and a lot about it has evolved over the years, but that culture has always been in place, and hasn’t had to change.
In 1991, when Esprit was first launched in Australia, the brand was at its peak globally. Right off the bat, it was embraced by the Australian people – especially the Australian women, according to Meggs. “Being a lifestyle brand, the Australian women can relate to our product offer, our marketing campaigns, and the feel of our brand,” he says. “It’s very in line with Australian values.”
“I think it’s about freedom,” he elaborates. “At the end of the day we have a wonderful country with so much freedom on an individual level. We have a lot of outdoor sports, a lot of outdoor activities; we’re a very social nation. And I think the Esprit lifestyle offer, in terms of clothing and accessories, just fits so well with Australia.”
The issues facing facing Esprit Australia are the same issues that face other retailers, Meggs says. “The big challenge is times are a lot tougher for the average man out there, and Esprit stands for the average man. We’re not an extreme of anything.”
“The challenges for us would be to maintain profit levels in a market that’s very discount driven while also maintaining our foot traffic levels,” he adds. “It’s a very competitive market. I’ve worked in retail now for 30 odd yards, across many brands, and this is the toughest I’ve seen it.”
For Esprit, meeting that challenge meets meeting it on every level. It means streamlining their processes and focusing on efficiency. “In tough times, everything is scrutinized,” Meggs says. “What was right yesterday won’t necessarily be right today, and I think it’s really important in this market to be open to challenging the norm. You have to try and problem solve and make things more efficient from a product perspective.” That is what Esprit is doing, in every facet they can think of.
The fact that Esprit is an international brand works in its favour, as well. “You have a massive backing of intel and analytics, you also have the support of a global buying team,” Meggs explains. “The big advantage for us is that mistakes can be made anywhere, but being led by an industry leader in Europe and Asia those mistakes have already been identified before they trickle down to the domestic level in Australia, so we can avoid them. It’s a great learning path.” That same strategy can also be used to identify successes, things that have worked elsewhere that they can adapt to Australia.
As far as the future is concerned, Esprit is acting aggressively to market themselves and overcome obstacles. Globally, they recently brought on world-renowned supermodel Giselle Bundchen to be the face of the brand. On an Australian level, they partnered with a local woolgrower in New South Wales. “We produced garments from that and sold them back to the market – which was very well received by the customer,” Meggs says.
“The Australian consumer is still emotionally attached to anything grown or made in Australia,” he adds. That wool growing initiative was a great way to appeal to that market, and Meggs says future initiatives like that are in the pipeline.
In the long term, he reiterates that they are fortunate to be a part of a global brand. They are currently investigating new store models globally, and looking at emphasising their lifestyle offering, and what works globally will most likely be applied to Australia. “Our evolution will naturally follow the evolution of the greater brand,” he says.