We interviewed Nathan Huppatz, Co-founder of Costumes.com.au and Advisory Board Member of Reboot Retail. He’s also one of the winners of the Top 50 Retailer Awards during Retail Week 2019 in Melbourne. Here you’ll learn the nitty-gritty of what it takes to lead a brand, scale it up for success, and sustaining it for the long haul. His no-nonsense take on building a business is something that retailers can definitely learn from in terms of surviving the odds and thriving in the ever-changing retail landscape.
RLC: How are you able to manage so many different functions – as a co-founder of many businesses, an advisory board member, and also a business consultant? (That must be a lot of flexibility and hard work!).
Nathan: It has always been a challenge for me to manage my time with different roles. I am the sort of person who moves between tasks frequently so I guess this kind of helps. I make a lot of use of my calendar to try and book time in for particular business activities.
These days our retail business has a great General Manager who runs the operational side of that business which leaves me more time for strategic work which is what I enjoy.
I don’t do a lot of consulting these days due to time constraints, but I manage to fit in a day or two here and there!
RLC: What are the key things that made Costumes.com.au so popular and successful to consumers across Australia and New Zealand?
Nathan: Wow, tough question. I think early on in the business when we were doubling revenue every year, it was a new and growing online opportunity for Halloween and other seasonal events. Online retailers like ourselves and a few other competitors got some great growth. I think consumers wanted choice, they wanted great licenses, and they didn’t want to hire an old used costume that had been worn by 100 people before them.
We offered that solution, at a price point the same or even lower than the hire option!
But of course, you need to work hard to remain at the front, especially with national bricks and mortar retailers discovering the Halloween and party niche. We work hard on great range, great prices, fast shipping and the best customer service.
“But I think the most important thing is not to rest on your laurels. Don’t stop working, don’t stop innovating and don’t stop learning.”
RLC: As the co-founder of online retail stores, how were you able to scale up these businesses and make them successful today?
Nathan: Scaling a business comes down to a few key things:
- Great product and great buying
- Efficient operations
- Cost effective marketing
The product you sell is very important and we have sourced and sold product in many different verticals over the years (including fishing, musical instruments, electronics, apparel and more).
With each business we looked at the best way to range product, and have imported from Asia, India, and the USA. We have also used many local suppliers and even done drop shipping. So you really have to look at supply and work out what is going to be best for your customers, and for you.
Being efficient in how we operate has been a strength of ours. We are a fairly technical team and like to think we are good problem solvers. So we build good systems that automate as much as possible. Our shipping solution readytoship.com.au is a good example of this. We built that system internally many years ago, and eventually commercialised it so other retailers could get that advantage too.
These days we look at each of our systems and try to make sure they are easy to use (by customers and our staff) and we try to make sure we don’t have manual or repetitive tasks in the business that can’t be made more efficient with technology.
Marketing is also so important. From day 1 of our online retail businesses (way back in 1999) we spent time learning and using online marketing tools and platforms available to us. This includes Google Adwords, SEO/Content marketing, Facebook and more. We have these skills internally in our business, which means we don’t have to outsource them to an agency (which can get expensive). We prefer to run (or at least manage) our own marketing if we can. No one cares for your ROI as much as you do!
RLC: What can you advise retailers in terms of eCommerce strategies and sustaining a business for the long haul?
Nathan: For long term success, I think managing margins and cash flow are important. Especially when you go through quieter periods, and boom periods too!
Ensure you always maintain your customer service standard, that is really important.
But I think the most important thing is not to rest on your laurels. Don’t stop working, don’t stop innovating and don’t stop learning. You cannot be complacent. The Internet changes very quickly. Just think about what the social media landscape was like only a few short years ago!
You need to always be learning about new platforms to market on, and understand your changing consumer!
About Nathan Huppatz
Nathan is the Co-Founder of Costumes.com.au, ReadytoShip.com.au and Directshop Pty Ltd. He’s also the advisory board member of Reboot Retail and a business consultant to SMEs. He’s the author of the Australian version of ‘Making Money on eBay for Dummies’ and a speaker of various retail conferences. He was recently acknowledged for his achievements in the industry at the recently held Top 50 Retailer Awards 2019 in Melbourne.