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Ross Poulakis, general manager of Harrolds Australia’s Luxury Department Store, is standing in the middle of their vast and immaculate menswear store in Sydney, hurriedly selecting a tie to better match his double-breasted Harrolds Private Label suit as he prepares for the camera. As the 29-year-old son of Harrolds founder, John Poulakis, Ross has grown up in the business, watching as his father turned a single Melbourne menswear store, established in 1985, into a dynamic retail empire.

The very personable Poulakis (who also, handily, happens to look very good in a suit) is listing milestones. “When we moved to 101 Collins Street in 2005 and created our flagship 1000 square foot menswear store, that was a huge move” he recounts. “The local retailers were taking bets that the door wouldn’t be open for more than a year. Melbourne had never seen anything like it.” A superb store, a superlative selection of top international brands, ranging from Comme des Garçons and Tom Ford, to Vetements and Rick Owens, and an ongoing commitment to impeccable customer service saw Harrolds named as one of the world’s 30 Most Innovative retailers at Pitti Uomo in 2014. “That was fantastic recognition and one of the proudest moments of my father’s professional career,” says Poulakis.

The introduction of womenswear in 2015 and with it the curation of labels such as Balmain, Kenzo, Dries Van Noten and Saint Laurent was also “a game changer”. Harrolds now has both mens and womenswear stores in Sydney and Melbourne, and have recently opened their newest footprint on the Gold Coast. Business is clearly good, so why is Harrolds prospering and expanding in a very volatile bricks and mortar market? “I think the key is that we continue to innovate; we are constantly changing our product offering, service expectations and instore experience. It’s about being brave and fearless and not being afraid to take the business to the next level.”

I think the key is that we continue to innovate; we are constantly changing our product offering, service expectations and instore experience. It’s about being brave and fearless and not being afraid to take the business to the next level.

Next level is rather a good way to describe the Harrolds retail environment, with its made to measure service, curated fragrances and accessories, of the moment designer lines and charming style advisors. A macchiato with your McQueen? A whisky with your Raf Simons? “What we are doing is more about selling confidence and high self esteem than it is about selling a Valentino t-shirt,” says Poulakis. “We want our customers to walk away feeling pampered, happy and part of the Harrolds world.” For a business that was founded on selling suits, shirts, ties and shoes, Poulakis notes that the menswear market has changed dramatically. “Our customers are now purchasing suits for work, and mixing and matching them with ready-to-wear pieces that are more conducive to their professional business environments. Men are more into separates, and are not afraid to wear Rick Owens or Margiela to work. The new generation is much better at casual and they know what they want. We have accommodated their needs by identifying the right balance of suits and ready-to-wear. Male customers are much more fashion savvy now, they follow the right bloggers and influencers on social media.” They also know their labels. “Take Fear of God from LA for example,” he says. “It was on the floor for no more than 3 weeks and we had 100% sell through. Our customers are looking for different options, not mega brands.”

Poulakis again cites the offering as the key to ongoing success. It’s a philosophy that is very much evident in the Harrolds stores—the collections are both old world elegant and surprising—from an oversized hip hop parka to a handmade crocodile dress. “We know some product is going to be hard to sell, but it tells the story of our brand and our perspective on fashion. It creates a unique theatre of experience and excitement instore. Our clients like to understand and be immersed within our world and our storytelling, I think we have an extraordinary story to tell.”

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Neue Fashion • Issue 3 • Fashion • Feature • BY Kirstie Clements SHARE

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