THE QUINESSENTIAL INTRODUCTION
Written by Michelle Sullivan
Photography by Peter Plozza
David Bush is a consultant to the business of fashion. Throughout a career spanning 25 years with the iconic Australian department store David Jones, he worked his way up the ranks from trainee to General Manager of Womenswear. It was during his time as GM, that he was responsible for introducing labels such as Paul Smith, Calvin Klein, Armani Collezioni, and Ralph Lauren to the Australian market.
He departed David Jones in 2012, largely driven by a decision to enjoy a better balance between work and living. He launched his eponymous consulting firm last year, and clients include QIC, Camilla and Jodhi Meares’ brand THE UPSIDE.
David is a self-confessed “introverted extrovert”; He has a charming manner, and a booming velvety voice. His Sydney townhouse is the embodiment of modern elegance with a twist. Dark mahogany wood furnishings meet Balinese cushions and textured throw rugs. If Tom Ford and Isabel Marant built a home together, this would be it.
I sat with David on a casual Thursday afternoon in June. Over multiple helpings of his homemade fish pie (and a few glasses of pinot noir), a lengthy conversation explored ideas on art, respect in business and leadership. David is blessed with the spirit of an educator, and he has a way of explaining observations that spark the mind. Needless to say, I was keen to learn more from David about his insights on branding and growing positive workplace culture.
I’m a consultant to the business of fashion. I’m a strategist, meaning that I listen to my client and then develop the roadmap for their growth. Some people have established businesses, others are emerging, but each comes with a specific set of problems that need solving. When you’re in the thick of it, it can be tough to see exactly what the problems are, and to articulate the way forward. That’s where I come in.
BEES WITH HONEY
That’s my philosophy, full stop. You get more bees with honey. Whether it’s in a job, or whether you are chatting somebody up for a hot date! It’s exactly the same thing. I just never see any reason to be painful or obnoxious. No one needs that, you know?
Take pride in what you do, and the individual that you are. Learn respect and discipline. These two things should also inform how we manage staff. Togetherness is a business culture.
When I first became a buyer, I worked for a CEO called Rod Mewing. At the end of every day, on his way out, he would take a walk through the Elizabeth Street store and say hello to each of the staff in their respective departments. He would randomly pick someone and say – “Come and take a walk with me, I want to ask you about this or that”. You would walk the store with him, and then he would get to your department and he would ask you: “How are things? What’s the best seller? What do you need?”
His focus was on attention to detail: “Oh Mary! Light globe!” Or “Can you please do something about the dust under that fixture?” Whatever it was. At the time I used to think “this man is the CEO, what does he care? Why should he worry if there’s dust?” Over time I understood that it’s these details that carve great business, and that the experience of the customer is paramount. If you let one light globe go, then the carelessness spreads. It also impacts on the culture; the people of the organization should take pride in where they work. It’s a culture direction from the top down. Rod Mewing would remember Mary’s name and something about her, and in return she would just do anything for him and subsequently for David Jones. She would maintain the store in the most immaculate way, whether he was there or not, because she felt pride in where she worked. Feelings of mutual respect go a long way. A simple thank you from the CEO will drive people a whole lot more than money.
Do not fear failure. It happens too much now in business; we have bred ourselves a culture of needing to not fail, because everyone is pitted against each other. It’s not sustainable. Business is not always a profit and loss statement, there is an integrity in ensuring that we take care of each other, and in how we manage people.
Ask questions and keep asking questions. When leading a team, it’s imperative to foster this culture, particularly from the top down. At David Jones, I would always encourage my staff to ask questions. I would rather have an open and transparent environment, rather than have someone stuff up and us need to spend the resources on fixing it, or worse, them trying to cover it up. As a leader, it’s important to nurture your people, taking the time to understand them and in bringing them with you.
When your customer is buying, they are not buying that t-shirt or bag, they are buying an experience. It’s the whole experience, from when she first walks into the store. There is a big difference between the “stack em high and watch em fly” model, to that when you’re asking her to pay $100 for a t-shirt and there is an expectation in play. If you’re buying that Alexander Wang t-shirt, you want the whole experience – service, how it looks and feels, the story of the brand and the sales associate who knows the product. You should leave the store feeling like you’re part of the story, floating down the street, oh and by the way, you also just bought something.
The most important foundation for any process is to listen to the client, understand the problem, and be on the same page. Let’s look at the example of branding. A client might come to me and say: “I’ve been in business for three years, I know what the brand is about and we have been offered the opportunity to show at fashion week. Is it the right time? Or – I’ve now shown at fashion week and I have certain buyers interested, but I don’t know how to make the right decision. What do you think about the long term effects?”
We work through a thought process together. Firstly, we will discuss the brand. What does it represent to them? Secondly, we talk about their customer. Who is she? Where is she going? What does she do? What is her lifestyle? What is important to her? We need to articulate who she is.
Thirdly, we dissect the brand attributes. We need to understand the values and what is important to the brand. If it were a living organism, who would the brand be? What nourishment does it need to survive?
Then we mesh those ideas together. We know who she is and we know what values are important to the brand. As a next step we review the product and how it sits with both those things.
THE BIGGER PICTURE
To grow a successful brand, you must have these three things:
• Brand value
You need to know who she is, where she’s going and what she wants. You can’t sit here and tell me she’s a corporate 35-year-old, but you want to sell her rah-rah skirts. I work with my clients to review their product and we edit and hunt for any misalignment. Where is the square peg in the round hole? If there’s a problem then I help my client articulate their decision – do you want to redefine the product? Or the customer? If it’s the former, are you capable of doing that?
I always recommend taking time to see what other people in your marketplace are doing. Much of my role as a consultant is to put the mirror up and say things that are not always easy to hear. Let’s use the example of our customer and her hunt for a $700 cocktail dress – what else is she buying today? What is she doing today? Where is she going? Think about your customer. She probably didn’t get up this morning and decide that she was going to get about her day and buy that navy dress with white spots. Or maybe she has? She probably hasn’t. But what she has done is said to herself – “I need a new dress to go to a cocktail party”. There are many designers who make cocktail dresses. That means we need to look at who else is selling a cocktail dress for $700. We go out and see what $700 buys you in the marketplace. What other options does she have to consider? Compare the difference between their $700 dress and yours. Why might she buy another designer dress over yours? There are very few designers in the world, whereby the customer gets up in the morning and decides that yes, today I shall go and buy an Alexander McQueen dress. There are some customers who do, but for the most part she is buying for the end use. She might have history with the Alexander McQueen brand and the experience, but ultimately she is going to McQueen for something – be it a dress for a cocktail party or a scarf for work – it starts with the end use.
Ultimately, It is important for my clients to be confident in their talent and their unique perspective, because it’s the magic that will help them stand out. My job is to help them find a path for how their customer’s life comes together. I present the bigger picture.
David wears Giorgio Armani, Hugo Boss, Salvatore Ferragamo, Cufflinks from Michael Greene Antiques in Sydney.
With Special thanks to Opera Australia Props Hire and Mandy Foley-Quin.
Photographed at Sun Studios in Sydney, Australia.