Name: Anthony Pitt
Company: The Academy Brand
Anthony Pitt believes he was destined to own his own business but he thought he would be running an advertising agency, not a fashion label.
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“I’m one of four boys who are all very ambitious and successful in their own right so I’ve always been around success,” the 36-year-old Sydneysider told SmartCompany.
“It was very much instilled in me to always do your best.”
Pitt studied marketing and advertising at university and worked in that field after graduating. He assumed at some point he would start his own ad agency but his time in the advertising world instead planted the seed for his fashion label and retail business, The Academy Brand.
Pitt launched The Academy Brand in 2007 and the company currently operates five of its own retail stores, employing 16 full-time employees as well as casuals.
The Academy Brand turns over more than $10 million a year.
As well as its retail outlets, the business also has a thriving wholesale arm, supplying its designs to more than 300 stockists across Australia and New Zealand, including the likes of David Jones, The Iconic and Surfstitch.
In fact, wholesale was how Pitt started out eight years ago when he made the break from his 10-year career in advertising.
“I was building everyone else’s brands, writing communications and ads, that was my thing,” he says.
“My role was to look after clients’ brands and identify trends in the market.”
It was one of these trends that spurred Pitt’s business idea: finding what he calls “the forgotten man” and creating a clothing brand just for them.
Pitt says he realised men’s clothing was largely dominated by two extremes: high-end and expensive fashion at one end and cheap and cheerful clothing at the other.
“There was this huge gap in the middle of men who were just being forgotten,” he says.
In its early days, Pitt says The Academy Brand’s target market was 18-25 year-old men who had started their professional careers and were looking for “modest” and “understated” clothes.
But he says, as the brand started to come of age, its audience has also expanded.
“As we’ve grown, we’ve moved to the age brackets younger and older so now its 14 to up to 55-year-olds,” Pitt says.
“My own dad can find something he likes in the store.”
Putting on his marketer’s hat, Pitt says it takes just seconds for a potential customer to know whether they feel comfortable in a retail store.
His goal has to been to create retail outlets that are accessible and welcoming to shoppers of all ages.
“There is so much competition now, you can’t afford for people to be shying away. We saw it very early on and we’ve been good at identifying our customers; we haven’t deviated,” he says.
SmartCompany spoke to Pitt about why being an entrepreneur doesn’t necessarily mean being a “cowboy” and why the arrival of more international retailers Down Under doesn’t worry him.
Like many of us, Pitt’s mornings always start with a coffee and then it’s straight into looking at the sales reports for his stores to assess where the business is in relation to its targets.
“I do a bit of admin and then talk to my staff. I walk around the office to see what’s going on, it’s a bit of a ritual,” he says.
Pitt admits he spends some of his days “totally engrossed” in his office but he likes to get out of the office when he can and spend time in his stores.
“So many things are happening in retail, you need to be out there and absorbing what is happening in the market,” he says.
It’s something Pitt feels the staff in the stores respond to well.
“Just because I’m the boss doesn’t mean they won’t see me there,” he says.
“I started this business by packing all the orders from a warehouse.”
For Pitt, being an entrepreneur is about “starting something from nothing, something that wasn’t there before you were around”.
“If I see someone in the public wearing an Academy shirt, I think ‘before me, they couldn’t have done that’. That’s a really exciting feeling. That’s what motivates me to be better than the day before.”
But Pitt doesn’t believe entrepreneurial spirit is “all about risk or flying by the seat of your pants”.
“I think it’s the complete opposite; it can be calculated, smart, it can be planned,” he says.
“It’s not about being a cowboy … [and] just throwing money away.”
“It’s about being thought-out, well-planned and bloody well executed.”
Pitt embraces the daily variety that comes with running your own business and says if a business owner’s days aren’t varied, that could be a sign that something is amiss.
“If every day is the same, then something has got to change,” he says.
That being said, Pitt says his days “start with numbers and end with numbers” as he will again assess the sales reports from the stores and the wholesale business as each day draws to a close.
“You have to be across the business’s performance,” he says.
“It sounds obvious but some people spend too much time between looking at the numbers. If they are not adding up, you’re in trouble.”
Local retailers could be forgiven for feeling some anxiety or pressure from the continuing trail of big name international retailers that have decided to make Australia home in recent years, but Pitt says its “fantastic”.
“I love it, I have embraced it,” he says.
“Once the international retailers come here their mysterious [quality] and mystique goes away,” he says.
“Everyone has access to them so they become not so attractive.”
Pitt says the greater the competition, the more potential there is for local brands.
“It actually gets more people involved, walking about and interested in fashion,” he says.
“They’re walking past stores and increasing traffic. It puts a spotlight on the industry and that has to be a good thing.”
For Pitt, downtime is all about spending time with his wife and nine-month-old baby. Living in a “very busy household”, he loves to take the time to go see a football match or two with his family.
But like most entrepreneurs, Pitt says he never really switches off from the business.
“I’ve learnt to multitask, to turn off the stress,” he says.
“But I’m always thinking about the business and my family.”
Pitt doesn’t hold back when it comes to his plans to continue to grow The Academy Brand.
“The wholesale business is still growing year-on-year and is a very strong part of the business but there is no question the real growth will come from the retail side of the business,” he says.
“I believe a network of 40 to 50 stores is absolutely possible, whether it happens in the next five or the next eight years. The beauty is I don’t have a timeframe on that.”
When asked who his business hero is, Pitt can’t go past Mickey Drexler, chief executive of American retailer J.Crew.
“He is an inspiration. He’s highly experienced and done it all,” he says.
“When he talks, he inspires. He talks with a lot of self-belief and character. You could do a lot worse than following someone like that.”
Self-belief is something that Pitt says he practices every day.
Before he walks into a meeting or sends an important email he recalls what he says was the best piece of business advice he has received.
“You absolutely have got to have 100% self-belief,” he says.
“Someone said that to be seven years ago and I’m still learning about it today and what it means.”
Pitt is determined to keep believing and in turn, keep improving the brand he started eight years ago.
“In the next five years I want to go everything bigger, smarter and brighter. And the next five on top of that,” he says.
“It’s very easy to take your eyes off the ball … but I want to stay on this same path and turn it into a freeway.”