As one of the New Zealand’s largest apparel retailers, Postie+ has retained a strong presence across the country for more than 110 years. However, a lot of work was needed to re-engage customers and modernise perceptions of the brand to suit the rapidly transforming retail landscape. Postie+ CEO Henry Lee tells The CEO Magazine how he helped to drive a more modern and dynamic brand thanks to high standards of service and the support of a new parent company.
The CEO Magazine: Can you please offer an overview of your professional background leading up to your current role as CEO of Postie+?
Henry: I have had more than twenty years’ experience in fashion apparel retail. I’ve been very fortunate to work with some of the leading retailers in Australia and New Zealand — including Country Road, MARCS and Witchery, and now I’ve been given the opportunity to lead Postie+. I’ve had two stints at Witchery — the first was under the stewardship of Peter Lew, where he transformed a fledgling label into a world-class retailer and its brand DNA is still evident today. It was early in my career and I am forever grateful for the introduction to an industry that is both dynamic and exciting, and one that still inspires me today.
My second time at Witchery came more than a decade later when I was appointed COO under new private equity owners who accelerated the growth of the business from seventy-seven to 210 stores, spanning Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and South Africa. At that point I’d held senior leadership positions for more than a decade, and was looking to make the next step into a CEO role. When Pepkor Group acquired Postie+, it created a perfect opportunity for me to come in and lead the significant turnaround that the brand needed. It was a publicly-listed company, but had struggled for many years prior to Pepkor’s acquisition.
When you first came into the role, what opportunities did you first see for yourself and for growing the company?
The scale of opportunities for improvement and growth right across the business immediately excited me. In the two years since Pepkor’s acquisition, we have done a “ground-up” review of the entire business — from store design and layouts, new fixtures to improve stock densities, revised in-store navigations and visual merchandising to improve overall customer experiences. We also rebuilt the processes and procedures surrounding the customer experience and engagement.
We streamlined our pricing architecture and improved value proposition, which resulted in permanent price reductions of more than 30 per cent across the business. Importantly, we succeeded in doing this while maintaining our high quality standards. We have also made significant changes to our product range. Overall, we have increased stock levels by more than 50 per cent, while at the same time, editing the range to make it more relevant, contemporary and introducing more ‘fashionability’.
What is your current area of focus? Where are you putting all of your energy at the moment?
The first couple of years were about laying a solid foundation for growth and fine-tuning the retail proposition, and now we are now transitioning to our next phase. Our focus is on getting new customers to reconsider our brand and drive footfall to our stores. We have recently launched a new marketing campaign, with increased emphasis on digital channels, and it features a new look and feel for Postie+, supporting a strong value and quality message.
"We do not believe that one size fits all. Our customers have their own unique sense of style and occasion and they proudly come in all shapes and sizes.”
We launched a new loyalty scheme in April, which has had incredible uptake from our customers. But the critical focus in this next year will be to improve our sourcing capabilities — not simply buying garments at lower prices, but also a focus on innovation, R&D, reviewing critical paths and improving manufacturing efficiencies. If we get all of this right, we’ll deliver improved quality, greater fashionability and ultimately a better value proposition for our customers.
What is your personal management style, and what do you think makes a successful leader?
I believe a successful leader is one that can inspire and engage a team around common goals and vision. It’s also vital that a leader puts the organisation before their personal agenda. A strong leader clearly communicates a path towards achieving key goals, and influences the organisation’s values and culture, inspiring others to collaborate, to be trustworthy, and honest. They encourage every person in their teams to be great role models, to strive for personal growth and achieve success in their own right.
My natural style of leadership would be classified as democratic, or participative. This style corresponds well to my personal traits — but this wasn’t necessarily the style that was most appropriate for a business requiring transformational change. For this reason, early in my tenure I placed a lot of focus on assessing and building team capabilities and getting people aligned.