Vicki Stirling got started in the fashion business with the best grounding. At Marks and Spencer she learnt the difference between designing for fashion and aesthetics, and designing garments that were commercially sustainable. At this point Vicki determined that designing was not for her, but that working with branding and being a product manager had more to offer and better career prospects.
Vicki has spent years working with some of the most successful companies in Europe and Australia. When Stirling first came to Australia she could see a notable difference between retailing and the need to be safe where there was no risk taking until it had first been tried and tested in Europe.
After working in Corporate, Stirling could see she had more to offer retailers so she founded Sunrise Junction; Brand business development. She understood that the brand model and the business model must align. And also that businesses that survived and thrived in this climate would be the ones that are fast and agile; able to move quickly to make the necessary changes. I really love her approach to business. She believes that every business must have structure and process without crushing spontaneity; it must be fun, productive and profitable. Lets talk a little more with Vicki Stirling from Sunrise Junction.
Vicki could you please tell me a little about your background?
I graduated with a Hons Degree in Textile Design from a university in the North of England (Textile Country!) After graduating I worked as a designer for a Marks & Spencer supplier in the UK. This was a wonderful grounding for a design graduate. – I quickly became aware of the commercial reality of design!
I’ll be the first to admit, I wasn’t the best designer! And always knew I wanted to do more. It wasn’t until I moved to Amsterdam to work for Nike that I realised my potential in the “business side of fashion”. I cut my teeth working as a Product Manager for Nike European Head Quarters. It was the mid 90’s and a really exciting time for the organisation. I moved around the company over a period of 8 years. Prior to leaving Nike to move to Australia I was the Sales Manager for the Biggest Account in Europe (Footlocker).
In Australia I was in my element! The opportunities for growth here were enormous! I was employed by Pacific Brands, initially as Marketing Manager of their Hosiery Division, then as Divisional Manager of the Holeproof Group. My dream finally came true when I was appointed Divisional Manager of Bonds Clothing.
I set up on my own at the beginning of 2013.
You have moved from Europe to Australia how is the market place different?
I would say that when we arrived 5 years ago it was immensely different. However, the gap is certainly decreasing!
The big stand out overseas – in Europe, the UK & the US is the competitive nature, the fight for Shoppers to walk through their door. Every retailer’s aim is to be Faster, Louder, Harder, Stronger than the store next door!… there is no reliance customer loyalty, no lapse in customer service. When times are hard, they don’t back off they invest more, they fight harder.
To be honest I believe that the biggest difference between Australia and European business is the element of Risk. In my time working with Australian Retailers I have often been frustrated by the general reluctance to try something new – unless they have already seen it work elsewhere – i.e. on their last trip to Europe!
In Australia we need to own our own space, Australia is a unique and special place, with a look and character that cannot be replicated by European or US brands. I hope in the future more retailers will trust themselves and their customers work harder on building their own identity and less time on replicating the work of others.
Vicki, I believe you have a started a new venture would you tell me a little about it?
Yes I’d love to! Sunrise Junction supports fashion & lifestyle businesses by developing Brand Brilliance through all elements of the organisation. Nike taught me very early on that the “Brand Is King” and we have to do everything we can to nurture it and protect it.
But my work does not stop at the Brand piece – in the fashion and lifestyle industry we need to be agile, adapting quickly to constantly changing environment. A major part of my contribution to businesses is through the implementation of a Smart & Fast Process Tool Kit, aiding businesses to react faster and get product to market with the least amount of internal touch points.
I am a big fan of Lean Manufacturing Processes, & putting ownership into the organisation. I also love Stephen Denning’s process of Radical Management. I believe that if a company has both ‘a strong internal brand message’ and ‘agile processes’ we can remove a lot of the bureaucracy that exists in organisations today.
I am excited about the future – I love to work with dynamic and engaging business owners and it fills me with such delight when I see them reach their full potential.
How would someone in the retail industry use a brand and business specialist and why is it more important now than ever to ensure branding is aligned with the message to market?
We all talk about the savvy shopper, their ability to pick and choose the brands they are affiliated with, their ability to connect with a brand and disconnect from a brand in an instant. Shoppers are Smart, they want to be treated with respect. Average brands just don’t cut it anymore. The Brand needs to connect through all touch points, every experience the shopper has with the brand has to live up to expectations, – or they can walk away in a second… Brand Messages, Social Media Content, the Retail Environment, the on-line environment, The Customer Service – all have to deliver the same Brand Message…
We need to align all of these strategies before we can even get them to the most important thing – your product. f the brand connects, but the product fails to follow through, then this is where a business can really suffer. This is why Product Quality & Service is so important. It is because of all of the above that I believe, now more than ever, we need to align our Brand to our Business Strategy, the brand is no longer just an external message that we provide to shoppers to get them to love us. A brand is something we need to live both internally and externally every day – if we want to convert people from Browsers into Shoppers!
Some good examples of this are Koko Black who project the brand on the exterior and project brand with retail staff committed to customer service and they equally project the brand in the quality they offer and they have a consistent brand message, Boost Juice projects message of health vitality all the values they stand for you see in their product and their retail environment and at Seed the staff that are the actual consumers of the brand, connect with the customer.
I have always been inspired by great brands and having worked in them for many years, I can see what makes a good brand great. It is not the shine and sparkle on the outside, the difference is made through how brand performs internally. Like the precise mechanism of a Rolex watch, what we see on the watch face is only made possible by what is underneath.
My aim is to provide creative businesses with insightful and dynamic tools which will assist them is developing their Brand & Business model – from the inside out!
I believe that creative environments have very different business & brand requirements, they cannot run on analytics, and modelling, there is a large amount of “Gut Feel” and “Creative Foresight”. Regardless we do need processes & structure; I work on putting this in place without crushing the spontaneity and creativity in the brand – work needs to be fun, productive and profitable!
Vicki, I love the 3 boxes on your website Know where, know what and know how tell me a little those 3 key statements.
If someone can clearly answer these three areas they have the grounding of a strong brand and business model.
Every business needs to KNOW WHERE they are going. In other words they need to Plan. A strong business plan will provide them with a go forward position. It will give them focus and drive to achieve what is written on paper.
As a Retailer, Brand or Service provider it is vital to KNOW WHAT your brand stands for and therefore what you ARE going to do and what you ARE NOT going to do. Knowing “What” will help you to stay focused and stop you, your store, or your product from looking schizophrenic. Number one rule is; always stay true to your brand.
We all struggle sometimes to move from idea to action. KNOW HOW is about the steps in the process. Although I am a creative person I also love processes! Building smart business tools that fit your brand and business model will provide you with structure, speed and will simplify your life! We had a maxim at Nike – Simplify & Go! That is what we should all be aiming for in our HOW process.
What projects are up and coming in the future for Vicki Stirling?
I’m working with a European based business looking to Launch in Australia. This is a scoping project and one with much potential. Very Exciting!
I am also working with a wonderful on-line brand Lilyhart, who are going through the entire process of brand & product alignment. They have already identified some amazing insights from the process which will help to define them going forward and I am working with Pilates Studio 165 to align their brand position to the amazing services they already offer.
I also am running a series of workshops for small businesses. Each 4 hour workshop will provide a powerful tool towards Brand Brilliance. We cover everything from Consumer Profiling, to Business Plans & Budgeting.
All of my projects are diverse and exciting and it makes my day incredibly fulfilling. If you want to hear more about my workshops please check out my website www.sunrisejunction.com.au or drop me a line on; Vicki@sunrisejunction.com.au
For more information go to www.sunrisejunction.com.au.
Written by Penny Votzourakis and pictures by Sunrise junction.