Rhythm entered the US market three years ago and has been steadily working its way toward gaining traction in the States on the retail front. Last week, the company announced the transition of its Australasian GM Josh Barrett to the US—a role he will take on in addition to overseeing the international business. Barrett, who has been working with Rhythm Australia for the past eight-and-a-half years, was previously the Australian sales manager before moving into the GM position.
“Given that Rhythm is still a growing business, this means that I still get to be very hands on within the day to day operations of all departments,” says Barrett. “A lot of our success comes from having such a tight team of employees who really care about Rhythm, and for this reason it's not unusual to see me helping out in the warehouse or sitting in on design meetings and not just sitting behind a closed door.”
We caught up with Barrett as he jetted from stocking the shelves to deciding on colorways and fabrics to find out what’s in store for Rhythm in the coming months, the launch of the Rhythm women’s collection in the US, what the brand’s focus will be in the States, and how he hopes to grow the brand in 2013.
Check out Rhythm’s upcoming line’s highlights:
What does this shift in the US management mean for Rhythm as a business?
There has been very limited Rhythm product in the US market place for around three years. The business was originally running separately to the Australian business regarding design, marketing and production timelines, and this meant we were not as competitive price wise as we could have been. Now under the new structure, we are able to offer an all around better product, stronger marketing support and also more competitive retail price points. Next financial year, starting with Spring 13, to me feels like year one, this is the first time we have had all of our ducks lined up.
How will your time be divided between the US and Australian business?
The current plan has me spending around 50 percent of my time helping to establish Rhythm in the US. Twenty five percent will be working out of the Irvine office and twenty five percent will be working remotely from Australia. My time commitment will change as the US business grows and it's not out of the question to see me relocate permanently at some stage in the future.
What do day-to-day operations look like in this new role?
Initially my focus is to ensure that the US office is using systems and structures that already exist in the Australian business. We really want to simplify the back end of the business so that we can focus on product and marketing. In Australia we have a heavy focus on in-store retailer support and this is something we are investing our resources heavily into in the US as well.
What do you hope to accomplish with the US division of Rhythm over the next six to 12 months?
An increase of Rhythm product distributed through the correct retail stores. Marketing support to stimulate sell through. A foundation for future growth.
You recently brought Michael Darr on as sales manager—will you be further expanding your US sales team in the future?
Yes, Michael Darr is our sales manager and we also have some other ex-Quiksilver people involved in the sales team. We only have six representatives at the moment, so for sure we are looking to expand, but as I mentioned before, the key for us is to form partnerships with the correct retailers, so this is our main sales focus. The rest will follow naturally.
“Rhythm doesn't want to be a company that guesses what retailers want, we want to react to actual information from the market.” – Josh Barrett, Rhythm U.S. GM
How do you plan to expand the brand in the US, and what strategies are you implementing to get you there?
We have a very solid reputation in the Australian market and want to leverage this success into the US market. Long term we know it is not sustainable to only release Australian product into the US, so we aim to collect as much information from the US market as we can from our Spring 13 and Summer 13 lines and to the fine tune our products from there. Rhythm doesn't want to be a company that guesses what retailers want, we want to react to actual information from the market. Retail is obviously tough, but good product still sells. Our focus is on product and retail support.
Follow the jump to page two for more on Rhythm’s US retail base and a look at the brand’s women’s collection.
What is your game plan for Surf Expo—will you use the show to target new accounts, or meet with/strengthen existing relationships?
We had a great response from the Agenda show last month, so we want to emulate this at Surf Expo. There will be a mix of new and existing retailers that we want to meet with, but irrespective of this, we want our product being shown nationwide, so Expo is a great opportunity for East Coast exposure.
What does your US retail base look like compared to Australia and international? How do you hope to grow and evolve this over the next year?
The US retail base is very much a work in progress as we haven't really scratched the surface yet. We are already at an advantage to some of our competitors given that our surf direction also connects with other retail channels that are not necessarily traditional surf. In the next 12-24 months we want to have the correct balance of independent and major retailers. This balance is very in line with the Australian retail base and offers long term stability.
We are not looking for an inorganic spike that only lasts 12 months. There are certain retailers that we know we need to do business with and we will work strategically to ensure that we have the product and prices that open the doors we need to be in. it's a little cliché, but we are looking for quality as opposed to quantity and this method has definitely worked for some notable brands over the past decade. I think a lot of people forget how important a brands integrity is and just focus on chasing paper.
How many retail doors have you opened since you entered the US market?
For Spring 13 we will be showing the line to around 220 retailers nationwide. We are currently supplying around 50 retailers.
What do you think is the biggest challenge within the US market today?
I think the biggest challenge would be trying to leverage any product that doesn't have a relevant point of difference. Fortunately Rhythm do not have this problem. In Australia, since 2003, Rhythm has represented "The Sound of Change" and while we don't anticipate establishing ourselves in the US to be easy, we are confident that we have a unique style that will connect with the US consumers. It all comes back to having good product and delivering your message to the market in the right way.
What about the biggest opportunities for Rhythm?
At Agenda we launched the Rhythm Girls line and the response was amazing so this is definitely an area we will expand in. There is also the obvious opportunity to expand the Men's lines distribution. We have had some test orders in some major retail chains that retailed really well, so we know the demand for Rhythm is out there.
Can you tell us more about the Rhythm women’s collection?
The girls collection globally is around 25-30% of the Rhythm business, in Australia it has been in the market place for around 3 years and we really seem to have found our relevant place in what is a very competitive apparel market. We consciously make sure the line is unique in the sense that is doesn't compete with the large vertical stores flooding the market with quick to market product, but is not so different that it is too forward for the majority of the market. We use a lot of interesting fabrics, and judging by the amount of girls stopping to check out our dip dyed chiffon styles at Agenda, it seems like it is going to be a big hit in the USA as well.
What three tips would you give retailers to better tell the brand story within their shops?
I only really have one tip. Buy products that represents the brand image. Rhythm is not a commercial brand so don't focus too much of your buy into safety pieces. Buy bright, buy loud, diversify.