Aquila builds on heritage

AquilaA high end menswear tailoring retailer has been on a significant expansion drive this year and will have added around half a dozen new stores by mid-year.

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MD, Luke Longo, said Aquila now operates 32 stores, having just launched a new store in Chifley Plaza in Sydney’s CBD. This will be followed by the opening of another in June at Sydney’s Birkenhead Point and concession outlets within Myer department stores.

“By mid-year, there should be 35 outlets,” Longo said. “But the second half of this year will be more about consolidation, redeveloping existing stores and ensuring they are operating at their optimum.”

Aquila has been through many changes since it was started as a shoe manufacturing business in 1958 by Longo’s grandfather, Tony, a cobbler who migrated to Australia from southern Italy after World War II.

As the second generation of family members entered the business, it began a push into retail, opening its first store in Melbourne’s Bourke St in 1975. By the mid to late 1990s, manufacturing was relegated to second place and for the past 10 years, all products have been produced overseas, mainly in Europe, and Aquila is now purely a retail business.

It has also added menswear and accessories to its range, which has doubled in size over the past decade.

What’s helped, according to Longo, is a shift in the mindset of its customers: men aged between 25 and 45.

“They have become more daring and are now more willing to wear something a bit different. Rather than just owning one pair of shoes, they are more inclined to buy different shoes for different occasions. They are certainly more interested in how they dress and look.”

Aquila also works hard at its customer service. “We really try to help the customer,” said Longo. “A lot of the time this is about putting outfits together for a customer. Some men feel a bit apprehensive about trying to put things together. They don’t have confidence so they rely on us. You get a bit more of a personalised experience with a retailer like Aquila.”

Staff training has been vital. “Our customers expect a certain level of service and product knowledge from our staff and when you are trying to sell, say, a $300 item, the customer has certain expectations of the floor staff in terms of what they know about the product or how to fit it.”

Being around for nearly 57 years has also helped. “It gives us an incredible breadth of customer knowledge which has been handed down through generations,” said Longo.

“We have a clear understanding of who our customers are and what they want. We offer pricepoints to suit different budgets with a huge range of different styles. We continue to develop new styles, but we have a very consistent core product range. We have strong European influence and we really promote that. There aren’t many retailers around focused on better end quality products.”

Longo believes Aquila’s online and physical presences compliment each other.

“Customers want to research your brand and product before they visit a store and having a good strong online presence is crucial in that sense. It’s important to provide as much information as possible online about your product or service. If you lose a customer at this point, he or she is unlikely to purchase online or even make the effort to get to a store.

Asked about store design, he noted: “We believe that our shops are showpieces for the brand. We put a lot of work into the stores and ensure they look fantastic and are befitting of the brand and the product.

“We ensure there are some consistencies between all stores. It’s important to have a defined look, however, we also tweak the design to suit the demographic of the area, as we do with product. But we never stray too far from the overall design and base materials.”

Looking ahead, Longo said: “We would love to see the brand represented overseas. Probably the most logical step would be South East Asia, places like Singapore or Hong Kong. We’d be happy to look at a slightly less risky approach in order to learn a bit about these markets and might start off with a wholesale business before opening standalone stores.”

This story first appeared in Inside Retail PREMIUM issue 2046. To subscribe, click here.

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