Smiggle – the Aussie brand that is laughing while other retailers scratch their heads.

Doomsayers continue to claim retail is suffering its worst conditions for decades. But in the unlikely market of stationery – where traditional newsagents have been disappearing across the country – one retailer is booming.

Smiggle is a great example of a brand that has reset its category. Driven by a strong vision, clearly defined brand proposition, distinct identity and deep connection with its audience, Smiggle is a standout brand.

Born in 2003, in Melbourne, Smiggle has grown from their first store in South Yarra to more than 100 stores across Australia, 23 in New Zealand and 13 in Singapore. The Just Group acquired the company in 2007 and it is now the hero brand within their challenging portfolio.

With many retailers struggling in the current climate, Smiggle has reinvigorated a category and achieved impressive growth of 20.3% in FY11. The company is still on massive growth trajectory with plans to add at least 30 stores in Australia and New Zealand and another 10 in Singapore in the next few years. Further Asian expansion is also imminent.

Positioned as “a colourful fashion forward stationery brand” for tweens, Smiggle has captured the imagination of kids across the country, is endorsed by parents and is the driver of trends in and out of the classroom.

While there are other stationery shops, Smiggle is differentiated by design. It creates a unique lifestyle and blurs the line between education and fun. Kids are drawn to the bright colours, squirky products and clever design, while parents are sucked in by the appeal of products that inspire their kids to create and learn.

Smiggle really ‘gets’ their audience and is focussed on keeping them loyal and engaged. This is a brand that understands that while product is important, it is a lifestyle that they are selling. Smiggle proudly claim in their communications, that they are “where a smile meets a giggle… the world’s greatest place”.

Ask your kids why they love it so much and they will probably tell much the same as mine do.

The bright colours, appealing shapes, clever design and of course the need to collect the whole set, is definitely part of the appeal. But the real brand achievement comes from the amazing way Smiggle has managed to achieve classroom cred and drive the need to keep up with Jones’.

While the brand was originally aimed at teenage girls, my 9-year-old son and his friends are all riding the Smiggle wave too.

“Everyone at school has Smiggle stuff. We all compete to see who has the biggest collection,” says my son.

While the products are irresistible to kids from 3 to 13 (and kids at heart of all ages), the well-crafted brandworld is where they excel. The brand is activated across a content rich website, blog, social media including Twitter, Youtube and a facebook page with more than 300,000 fans.

The smiggle brand is also infused into Colour Crews, their rewards and loyalty programme with competitions, apps, skins, wallpaper and games.

The Smiggle stores are like a magnet for kids but also unsuspecting parents. Stationery is the hero, with everything you need (and don’t really need but love) all beautifully displayed by colour.

Smiggle clearly understand the importance of employee brand engagement. The store experience is carefully crafted with young ‘Smigglers’ who are not just friendly and service-oriented they are true brand champions.

Unlike other stores where kids are told don’t touch, Smiggle staff naturally interact with the kids, encouraging them to touch and play with the products. They also cleverly upsell the kids, and their parents; “and there is a matching pen, eraser and case to go with that too” eager Smigglers chirp.

Smiggle proudly say that “with friendly staff, a fun environment and plenty of products to play with, we think that a visit to our stores is just like a hug from your best friend” – and they deliver this.

Like all great brands, the success comes from encouraging us to happily part with our hard earned cash. After several checkout shocks I think most parents have wised up to Smiggle not really being a cheap treat – but that doesn’t seem to stop us ending up in one of their store, every time we go shopping. Like most parents, we just read the kids the riot act before entering a Smiggle store, specifying time and price limits.

Another audience who are now being suckered in is the Grandparents. My parents had their first Smiggle experience while looking after the kids last week. Thinking they were buying the kids just a few pencils and a pencil case, they were quite surprised to have to shell out $70. Mum later told me that she noticed that most of the people in the store seemed to be grandparents who were all making the same mistake!

For Smiggle, this success didn’t happen overnight. Like many great business ideas, Smiggle required bold visionary thinking, with a passion to succeed and there were plenty naysayers in the early days.

Smiggle founders, Stephen Meurs, Peter Pausewang explained to Dynamic Business “People said to us in the early days; oh stationery, Office Works are doing that so well.”

But they stuck to their vision with a focus on creating an identity for their audience.

“We infiltrated the schools and very quickly, it became a fashion item; like young girls wear different earrings, they were then buying a lovely notebook and a matching calculator, the matching pen, some pencils, a pencil case, so when they were going to school they were saying ‘look at me’. In essence, that’s been Smiggle from day one—we do bright colours, we change the designs, we have key products we keep as our base product, but more and more the design is growing, it’s developing.” Says Meurs and Pausewang.

With so many retail brands struggling and disappearing, it is inspiring to see an Australian brand that is thriving and expanding. It is also testament to what can be achieved by challenging conventional category thinking.

If you have a challenger mind-set and want some help to create a bold new brand proposition and identity that will reset or create a new category, we’d love to hear from you.

Michael Hughes
Director of Brand Strategy


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