Words by Elisabeth King 

Sue Price describes herself as a passionate merchant. The Group General Manager, Beauty, Lingerie and Sleepwear at Myer certainly has the resumé to back up the statement. She has been in her current role for 18 months and her prime goal is to further boost and strengthen the department store chain’s competitiveness and beauty offer. What I really love about my job is the fact that beauty is such an international business with broad-based global strategies, she adds.

A highly skilled retail executive, Price has worked on three continents – Africa, Europe and Australia – since graduating with a degree in Business Science from the University of Cape Town. She began her career in menswear in South Africa before moving to the UK to become Planning Manager at Freemans, the British catalogue clothing retailer now owned by the Germany-based OTTO Group, one of the world’s largest home shopping organisations.

In the early Noughties, Price became Merchandise Planning Manager/Head of Merchandising for the iconic British department store chain, Debenhams, a position she held for eight years. “That’s where my love of cosmetics truly began”, she says. “The industry is so focused on empowering women and making them feel beautiful. A momentum that also flows to the major gifting occasions such as Mother’s Day and Christmas”.

Largest department store footprint / Attracting younger customers

Price relocated to Australia in 2014 to take up the position of Merchandise Manager for beauty, childrenswear and nursery at Target Austalia. “The role was my first exposure to the mass market and expanded my skillset. Because of my strong background in apparel in South Africa and the UK, I became General Manager Apparel Planning at Myer in 2016. My job was to build and maintain strong brand partnerships and was very strategic across financial, forecasting and planning. At the beginning of 2018, I moved into my current role which fulfilled a long-held aspiration to become head of beauty at Myer”.

Myer has the largest department store footprint and is dominant in the prestige beauty market, says Price. “Myer has very strong relationships and partnerships with the major beauty brands, but we are not complacent. Over the past few years, Mecca and Sephora have become significant competitors, as have online operators such as Adore Beauty. We are looking to attract younger customers and are increasingly stocking new and exciting brands”.

Growing and building the business involves staying on top of global beauty trends in products and retailing, says Price. “Over the past six months, I have been to South Korea twice because so many new trends and products originate there. I have also been to London and New York and will shortly be visiting Dallas, the headquarters of the Neiman Marcus Group. Our strategy is not only to find out what’s new but what is most likely to do well in the local market in order to offer a curated collection of the best in beauty to our customers”.

Strength of Myer One / Growing importance of Chinese market

Newness might be an umbrella goal, but Price believes that brands must have a unique DNA and story to tell. Last May (2019), Myer ranged the fast-moving makeup removal brand, Face Halo, across 60 stores and online. Sand & Sky, the Australian pioneer of clean beauty, has also proved popular. In August, Myer entered an agreement with Aesop as the exclusive department store retailer for the brand. “I believe strongly in exclusives”, says Price. “They help to drive customers to stores and create a great point-of-difference from rivals”.

MYER One is one of the most popular loyalty programs in Australia with more than five million members. According to Stocard, an app that allows users to store loyalty cards on their mobiles, MYER One ranks third in its database of 1.7 million users. Over 75 per cent of MYER One members are women and the program accounts for up to 70 per cent of the spend at some Myer stores. “MYER One has a very strong data base, which rewards our best customers and is relevant and valuable to them”, says Price.

Myer differs from competitor David Jones by offering affordable luxury, says Price. “That means we provide customers with cult startup brands like The Ordinary from Deciem all the way up to Clarins, Chanel, Dior, SK-II and Lancôme. This enables us to reach out to the luxury-loving Chinese tourist market, especially in our flagship stores in Sydney and Melbourne where sell-through rates have soared. We are also on WeChat, the Chinese messaging, social media and payment app, and have increased the number of Mandarin-speaking BAs in key stores”.

Moving away from discounting / Online sales growth

CEO John King delivered Myer’s first underlying profit growth in eight years a couple of months ago by pulling away from discounting to boost gross margins, exiting unprofitable product categories and cutting costs and debt. “We have a strong beauty profile and we will not be blanket discounting”, says Price. “Our focus will be on providing even more services for customers and targeting major selling promotions such as Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Boxing Day”.

E-commerce sales have experienced significant growth, says Price. “Our online beauty offer has been transformed. We are changing content on the site more frequently. Our CRM (customer relationship management) is more segmented, fueled by the strength of the MYER One database. We have also made it easier for customers to shop online using whatever device they prefer with an increased emphasis on mobiles”.

Myer is very much a customer-first company and our partner brands have invested heavily in training, adds Price. “We ensure that the BAs in our stores have all the back-up and help they need, not only to assist customers with their purchases but also in speaking their language. We drill down to demographics of the suburbs surrounding individual stores. We not only look after our Mandarin-speaking customer, we also encourage our counter staff and BAs to use other languages they speak, such as Lebanese, for example”.

Ultimate beauty destination

Prestige beauty is on a roll worldwide, says Price. “More exclusive agreements, like the one with Aesop, are very much top of the agenda. One of our most exciting recent offerings is Lancer, the unrivaled anti-ageing skincare range from celebrity US dermatologist, Dr Harold Lancer, whose fans include Kim Kardashian and Ellen DeGeneres. Another cult brand is Coco & Eve, which has become a firm favourite through its all-natural coconut and fig hair mask”.

But, as everyone knows, 20 percent of SKUs deliver 80 per cent of sales and Myer is known as the ultimate beauty destination for proven products and franchises such as Lancôme Absolue and Estée Lauder Advanced Night Repair, adds Price. “My main goal is to increase Myer’s market share and to maximise every brand we offer”.

Feature Image courtesy of iStock. 

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