Sydney entrepreneur Anthony Pitt decided to launch his business in the middle of the Global Financial Crisis at a time when most would run the other way.
“There was a lot of business fear during that period and the media was all doom and gloom,” he told SmartCompany.
“It wasn’t overly inspiring or conducive to getting out there and starting a new business.”
The Australian dollar was at a measly 58 cents against the US dollar and essential marketing tools like Instagram hadn’t been invented yet.
Today, The Academy Brand turns over in excess of $10 million each year, boasting a thriving wholesale business as well as five of its own stores across Sydney, after adding two new Westfield department stores in the past year.
“The growth we have experienced, especially over the last 18 months, has opened up a lot of opportunities for the business – most exciting is perhaps our retail growth plan,” Pitt says.
With a vision of having as many as 50 stores one day, Pitt and his team are aiming to expand their retail presence by a further four to five stores this year.
“Anyone who makes it in this industry is not by fluke,” he says.
Stay true to the brand
According to Pitt, the growth trajectory of The Academy Brand is a result of having a clear direction from the beginning and executing well on that idea.
“There are plenty of people with good ideas but even more who don’t know what to do with them,” he says.
Pitt did this by maintaining a sharp focus on his target market, learning how to engage them and staying consistent with branding.
“Stick to your guns and remember why you started in the first place,” he says.
The former advertising executive has found that consistency is crucial to building a strong brand.
“You need to deliver a great product and service, all the time,” he says.
“Too many businesses want to chop and change their ethos or their brand image too quickly – it’s brand suicide.”
It’s important to evolve, he says, but this doesn’t mean change.
“A strong brand builds customer loyalty and has credibility associated with their name,” he says.
Push through adversity
Building a business during the GFC meant there was an intense climate of negativity, says Pitt.
“It didn’t change the fact there was a big gap in the market for what I wanted to offer,” he says.
Wanting to seize the opportunity of selling premium fashion at affordable prices at a time when budgets were tight, Pitt pushed ahead.
“Asking banks for money during an economic downturn can be difficult,” he says.
“The amount of planning, forecasting and pitching that was required was quite draining.”
Even getting in front of retailers who could barely entertain the idea of picking up a new brand in that climate was difficult.
“But persistence pays off,” he says.
Prepare, pitch, be patient
Focusing on the quality of their product, Pitt learned to tailor and tweak his sales pitch to make it more appealing to stockists and eventually he turned those rejections around.
“In fashion sometimes no news means bad news and you need to identify those situations quickly and either move on or adjust your pitch,” he says.
In the end, this rocky beginning empowered Pitt with a high level of resilience to really accelerate The Academy Brand’s growth when the market recovered.
When approaching large businesses such as David Jones, Pitt says entrepreneurs starting out need to be prepared.
“Buyers are very time poor and they also receive hundreds of pitches and submissions every week,” he says.
This means a thorough understanding of not just your product but pricing, margins, contributions, delivery requirements and exclusivity agreements as well.
“You need to assume you will be asked every question possible,” he says.
“And then of course your product and catalogues need to be better than everyone else they have seen, or are about to see.”
Do what’s scary
Looking back, Pitt says the scariest part of his business journey was starting.
“It was both the scariest and the most exciting all in one,” he says.
“Starting any business comes with a nervous energy.”
It was a huge personal compromise for Pitt who invested so much time into growing the business that he had little time for any thing else.
And it took him a hefty amount of leg work and there were no short cuts.
“You may get lucky breaks along the way but they will still come from hard work,” he says.
For other entrepreneurs embarking on the journey of growing a business, Pitt has the following advice.
“Growing a brand or business is not a sprint, no matter your motivation,” he says.
“It’s important to remain opportunistic and not be scared to seize opportunities – as long as the business is telling you to do it and not ‘just’ your gut.”