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Bobbies going online to tap connected customers

Bobbies going online to tap connected customers

David Dixon

Retail has been Melissa (Mel) Gregory’s life for nearly three decades building her “Bobbies Clothing” brand for 27 years.

But how do local bricks-and-mortar retailers thrive against online international giants like Amazon, eBay and Alibaba?

Main Street Australia will survive, Mel believes, by learning to adapt, joining the online shopping revolution and offering something the industry Goliaths cannot; the personal touch.

Taking on the behemoths, Mel and Bobbies are soon to launch their own online shopping site at: www.bobbiesonline.com.au, which will carry the vast majority of the name brands they feature in their Summer Street outlet.

“I love it, I really do!” Mel said of the genuine enjoyment she gets from her work every day. “It’s being able to resolve customers’ needs. They come in with a problem, and we help solve it,” she explained.

Mel believes that the business philosophy of “constant and never-ending improvement” (CANI) and the ability to have an agile business model are the secrets to success in retail. “You’ve got to strive for excellence, that doesn’t mean being a perfectionist, but delivering a service as good as you can each day,” she said.

“Retail is about detail.  It’s the little things that make a difference.  We’re constantly assessing the store to see how we can improve… how we can add value and improve delivery,” Mel added.

So you don’t want a complete change to the style and feel of the store every time a customer returns for the mid-market specialist brand-name clothing Bobbies has always specialised in.

 “We don’t want them to walk in and get a shock, but we need to keep it fresh enough to keep it exciting,” she explained.

But, Mel says, the changes wrought by the explosion of online shopping to small businesses in regional cities like Orange, cannot be ignored.

“The industry is way more challenging now than when I first started,” she said.

“I think the retail industry has been totally disrupted with the onset of online shopping, but just like any industry, it is a challenge to compete.”

“Online shopping isn’t new.  We have to take the view, ‘this has happened, how do we adapt and evolve?”

Mel and her team are currently in the process of developing a new website, “We’re developing an e-commerce store at the moment with a local web developer, which is proving to be a lot of work.”

“My team have had a huge input into the look and feel of the website and what we want for our customers.

“With the busy summer buying season now coming to a close, I’ll also be able to spend more time on the development of the site,” she said.

“A new software package was recently implemented to assist with the stock control integration and to complement the new Bobbie’s online store”, she explained. But Mel believes that it will be the aesthetic impact of the new site, grabbing online customers’ attention immediately, that will be the proof of the pudding.

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“For our market, the site has to look exciting and appealing. It must have good functionality and be engaging.”

Orders will be received online with all packaging, mailing, stock-taking, and ordering to be carried out in-house. “It will all be integrated when we go online. We’re going to run it all from our upstairs warehouse and office,” Mel said.

Ideally, she envisions a future where up to 30 percent of her sales are online with the store still the masthead of the business for local customers seeking the personal service that Bobbies Clothing has always emphasised.

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“I’m looking at it as another doorway,” she concluded.

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