Backed by 20-plus years of retail experience, CEO of THE ICONIC Erica Berchtold says her job continues to teach her something new every single day.

Having worked primarily in the bricks-and-mortar space, the former Rebel Sport Managing Director took the helm of Australia’s largest online fashion retailer in February 2019, following a momentous 2018.

THE ICONIC’s revenues soared 38% to A$370.5 million in 2018, buoyed by the launch of new categories and an online marketplace for independent brands.

The enormous online retailer now sells more than 60,000 products and 1,000 brands, doubling its share of the Australian and New Zealand online clothing and accessories market.

The CEO Magazine sat down with Erica to hear how she’ll spearhead THE ICONIC’s next phase of growth.

Q. What brought you to THE ICONIC?

Retail is an incredibly dynamic and progressive industry, which is what I have loved throughout my career. It’s this nature of the industry that inspires me to contribute and make a positive impact every day. The role of CEO at THE ICONIC was an opportunity I just couldn’t say no to – it was the right time for me both personally and professionally. It was, and still is, the perfect blend of being able to apply my years of traditional retail experience, yet still feel like I’m always learning something new.

Q. The online market is highly saturated – how do you make sure THE ICONIC stands out from other retailers?

Customer expectations of any business have never been higher, especially in retail. For THE ICONIC, everything we do and every single decision we make, whether it’s about designing our customer experience or increasing our product assortment, all comes back to how we can continually exceed rising expectations to deliver the most seamless and inspiring experience for our customers.

We need to deliver what the customer wants and needs now, and also inspire them for what they don’t realise they want and need yet. We constantly look for new ways to innovate and new technologies to invest in. We invest heavily in customer product innovations like our Snap to Shop, Find Your Fit and Follow the Brand features, which were all created to emulate the offline experience in an online environment. We’re also exploring how personalisation technologies and augmented reality features will improve our customers’ experience.

We recently announced our partnership with Alphabet’s Wing, which gives Wing’s Canberra-based customers the opportunity to receive THE ICONIC orders by drone delivery in as little as 10 minutes. It will help us understand exactly why, and for what reason, our customers might benefit from the use of drone delivery. These learnings will enable us to define what drone delivery will look like in the future for fashion and retail.

We need to deliver what the customer wants and needs now, and also inspire them for what they don’t realise they want and need yet.

Q. The retail industry has great female representation, but how are you helping women climb the ranks?

All organisations, regardless of industry, need to create an environment that inspires and supports women to put themselves forward for leadership roles – whether that’s at a senior management, executive or board level.

I’m extremely passionate about ensuring women are supported and encouraged to throw their hat in the ring. I refuse to accept the belief or suggestion that there is a lack of talented women out there to achieve greater balance. Diversity of thought is crucial to proper decision-making; why would you want everyone to be the same?

At THE ICONIC, seven of our eight C-suite members are women, which is a statistic that we’re very proud of. But to me, this isn’t reflective of true gender diversity. Diversity is about having a balance in all aspects, while having the best people available in the roles they hold. My ultimate goal is to no longer have to talk about or advocate for gender equality because it becomes the norm and is just not an ‘issue’ – in fact, that it feels weird to even mention it.

Q. As a mother of three and a CEO, what does work-life balance look like to you?

I think you have to create your own ‘normal’, which is all about finding a balance that works for you and your family – not subscribing to someone else’s idea of ‘normal’. Don’t beat yourself up. Early in my motherhood journey I worried I wasn't there enough for my kids, but what I’ve realised is that my kids aren’t keeping tabs on me to compare with other parents.

The time they have with me is their normal. It might be a bit less during the week, but I make an effort to spend lots of time with them on the weekends and ensure that time is quality time. In fact, a good work ethic and the ability to ‘get things done’ is a great example to set for your kids.

Q. What advice would you give your younger self?

  1. Don’t lose faith if you feel you’ve been treated unfairly because of your gender. Times are going to change – in fact, they already are – and the well-developed resilience you build from the tougher times is going to be one of your strongest attributes in the future.
  2. On that note, accept that there will be tough times ahead. During these times, your family will keep you grounded, and your friends will be your cheer squad – listen to them if they have a few hard truths to tell, as they mean well. Always make time for them – being busy is no excuse and you’ll regret it later if you don’t put the effort into nurturing these relationships.
  3. You can achieve whatever you want in life and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Play hard, work hard and take the good with the bad.

Q. What’s in store for the future of THE ICONIC?

Our focus is to continue to look for growth opportunities, meaning we are constantly thinking ‘could we add a new category? Push that a little harder? Is there a different way to take that to market?’ Rather than looking purely at the bottom line and saying we need to cut costs, reduce headcount or cancel the Christmas party, our goal is to continue progressing. We know we aren’t perfect, but it’s about progression and that’s how we approach growth.

If you want to hear from some of Australia’s top businesswomen, tickets for The Empowered Woman 2020 Sydney summit are on sale now.