Meet the man who staunchly refuses to sell his clothing range online

Brett Birkill hears the constant talk about the importance of e-commerce, but flatly refuses to believe it.

The founder of Prime Mover Workwear has resisted selling online in favour of a traditional distributor business model because he doesn’t want to ‘cut the lunch’ of the retailers that support him. This is despite his two biggest competitors, Hard Yakka and King Gee, both selling online.

“It’s an unusual business strategy in this online world of ours, but I believe it’s one that looks after the values of Australian owners and mateship. Prime Mover Workwear continues to thrive and I want to enjoy this success with reseller partners, and ultimately workers.”

While the business continues to grow online advertising and promotion, Birkill believes the decision to retain a traditional business model will strengthen ties with distributors and retailers as major competitors eventually fade out of traditional stores.

“In old-school terms, these distributors are my mates, and I feel I owe them some respect for helping to grow Prime Mover Workwear,” he says.

“The livelihood of workwear retailers becomes threatened when you cut them out of the chain. My company would be nothing today without retailers, so I’m determined to continue to support them. That means not selling direct to consumers online.”

Rachel Barnes is another retailer with no intention of offering her products online. The owner of Adelaide retro and vintage store House of Serendipity has watched by as others with similar stores moved online, and fell flat on their face.

She’s even purchased items from others that have shut down or aren’t profiting due to the investment of offering an e-store.

“Retro and vintage clothing is something you need to come in and try on. Others have told me that the time involved in uploading each and every item to a website is a huge waste of time, with so many items returned because they don’t fit.

“I’m on Facebook to keep in touch with customers and attract new leads to my retail store, but I’ve got no intention of selling online.”

But online retail sales will only continue to rise, according to Brian Walker of The Retail Doctor Group. He predicts that online retail sales will represent between 10% and 15% of all sales across all categories in the next two to three years.

Retailers not selling online will lose out, he says.

Refusing to sell online in a bid to remain loyal to distributors won’t pay off in the long run either, because distributors will move toward selling online at some stage, Walker says.

“The reality is that the market is moving quickly towards online sales. Unless someone is contractually bound not to sell online, that’s probably what’s going to happen.”

But nothing will change the mind of Birkill, who says buying his clothing from a store is also more beneficial for consumers. He doesn’t reckon he’ll change his tune down the track, either.

“Buyers of our product may have to walk into an actual store to buy our gear, but they’ll benefit from real service and the ability to try items on,” Birkill says.

“Many buyers and wearers of workwear live in regional or remote areas in Australia, where a sense of community is still very important and prevalent. We love the idea that Macka from Mildura or Mitch from Manjimup can still drop into the local workwear store and have a chat to the owner, and local personality who owns the place.

“We’d hate to see those sorts of relationships ruined entirely by online shopping. We want to keep supporting local communities and local businesses.”

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