David Bush walks into our office, and he instantly exudes a sincere warmth. Greeting me with a warm hug and double kiss, there is absolutely nothing pretentious or insincere about this Australian fashion industry stalwart. He has an infectious smile and clearly still loves the industry he has contributed so much to. Retailing is ingrained in his blood, with his father and mentor, who was also one of the directors of David Jones until the 1980′s and who worked there for over 43 years. It was the only job his father ever had. Unlike his father, after a stellar 25 year career at David Jones, he ended it a year ago, where he bravely made the choice to leave the department store, he affectionately refers to as ‘The Houndstooth’. It would be a big decision for anyone, considering it was not a small career he had there, (Bush was General Manager of Womenswear and responsible for a team of 34 staff). During his tenure at David Jones he typically worked his way up the ranks from being a trainee in 1984, to fashion sales to buying and was responsible in bringing labels such as Paul Smith, Nicole Farhi, Calvin Klein, Armani Collezioni, Ted Baker and Ralph Lauren to the Australian market. He has also played a major role in the development of local brands such as Willow, Calibre, Bec & Bridge, Zimmerman, Camilla, and Thurley.
However, not wanting to be the ‘last man standing’, as he states, he bravely made the move to leave the famed department store, where he left such a legacy. He has now embarked on his role of David Bush Consulting, and while loving his new life he does recall at times, it has been a bit of an adjustment going from having a large team of staff to just him now. Since leaving, he looks relaxed, happy and is loving his new consulting career which never consists of the same day. One day he may be called in by a large apparel company to help oversee the recruiting process of a General Manager, to the next day, helping a large chain store make the transition of a strategy from 50 stores to 150. He wears many hats, and it speaks volumes of his diverse level of retail and fashion expertise, and the respect and friendships he has gained in a notoriously tough and not so kind industry at times.
Yet despite all of this, he is still extremely humble. He doesn’t profess to always know the answers in this challenging retailing climate which makes him quite endearing. However make no mistake, he is highly astute in his observations about fashion and retail. Interestingly despite working at a department store, he is actually not for the incessant discounting, which has become such common place in retail and believes it has to stop. He has seen first-hand that if you have the right product mix at the right price in recession proof categories, such as certain fashion categories, shoes, cosmetics & accessories you don’t have to rely on discounting to ensure sell through. He agrees discounting is usually a result of the wrong product mix at the wrong price, but he remains also empathetic in the case of chain stores and department stores, as he understands the C.E.O’s are put in a difficult situation, due to being under immense pressure operating public companies and having shareholders expectations to adhere to.
When asked about the survival of the independent retailers with the influx of overseas chain stores arriving to Australia, he still believes these retailers can succeed with exceptional customer service, developing strong relationships with their customers and can compete on offering a point of difference to what is in the chain stores, where everything starts to look the same. But he does add “Those days of retailers just trading along in their shops are over, they have to have a business acumen”. He points out customers still want the “Cheers” television show motto experience in retailing – ” Where everybody knows your name”, and maintains independent retailers also have the local area knowledge advantage over the department stores and chain stores, especially in regional areas, when the department stores are central buying in the city.
Like many experienced rag traders, Bush stresses the importance of understanding the customer, right down to what the customers are doing on a day to day basis in their clothes to understand the functionality of how they wear garments. He recalls while managing his large team, if a team members section was suffering, he would send them to the relevant store to work on the floor to really observe the customer and find some feedback first hand as to what the customer wanted. Not as punishment to the staff member, just so they could really understand the core customer, and who they were buying for. It’s this down to earth approach to retail, which really stands out about him.
Bush also notes this about consumer spending. “Long gone are the days when the lady will buy three different dresses all to wear in one day, these days that lady is wearing a dress with a jacket and stockings to work for meetings, then perhaps changing her stockings and shoes, and relies on that dress to go out for drinks or dinner to pick up a bloke.”
On the subject of visual merchandising, he also wisely observes the customer should know instantly when they walk into a shop whether or not it’s for them, and believes independent retailers have to concentrate on not being everything to everyone by stocking too many different brands and need to concentrate on targeting their core customer. He does understand their mentality in doing this though. “They are trying to grab every sale possible by stocking 40 different brands and buying a little of each brand and terrified of losing out on a sale,”, but points out, this doesn’t work in the long run. ” You can’t be everything to everyone, it would be much better to stock three different brands as opposed to doing a bad job and stocking 40 different brands and not knowing your customer, nor supporting any brand properly or the customer “. He cites.
Always smiling with a self-deprecating humour, you can see why the Australian fashion industry loves him so much. Despite his large corporate career, he has always been very generous with his time, taking the time to mentor young designers. He spends time giving back to the industry he loves through various mentoring programs for young designers. “It’s important that we as an industry support one another”. On the day of the interview, he was flying to Brisbane to pass on his knowledge of the future of digital retail and the future of fashion brands, as a speaker at the Queensland University of Technology. On the topic of discussing emerging designers in Australia and their future, he expresses concern about the lack of business acumen which isn’t being taught in their courses, and urges them to partner with someone who can offer a business element and to take care of the commercial realities to ensure survival. Bush also concludes it’s not an easy time for them to be manufacturing in Australia, not having the ability to meet production minimums overseas and states the Australian Government seems to have very little interest in helping halt the demise of manufacturing in the fashion industry which young designers rely on. He also urges young designers to do the hard yards with their brands and do their own selling for a few years, and get a few rejections to learn how to achieve a commercial offering and find their customer.
In terms of a missing market segment in fashion, He concludes there is an untapped market in the over 50′s market for women and maintains there is still a huge gap missing in this market, but admits it’s sadly not a category anyone wants to design for, despite being such a lucrative market. It’s been well over an hour since his arrival, and he says he could talk all day about the industry, but checking his watch and realising he has to leave to board his flight, he gets up. But not before enquiring about the welfare of my husband’s health drama in New York. It’s this interest in others and caring side that seems to come through. No pretentiousness, no ego, and definitely not a man who beats his own drum. Yet his achievements in the Australian Fashion Industry have been considerable. David Jones was just the beginning for him, there will be plenty more of David Bush to come.
To contact David Bush Consulting go to http://dbcconsulting.com.au/