Property billionaire Andrew Roberts snaps up three online retailers: Strategy

Property billionaire Andrew Roberts snaps up three online retailers

By Cara Waters
Monday, 25 June 2012

Andrew Roberts, head of the Roberts family who formerly owned development company Multiplex, has turned to online retailing with the acquisition of MyCatwalk, Thread People and Baby’s Got Style.


Roberts, whose family was valued at $1.75 billion on BRW's Rich 200 list, is looking to become a dominant eCommerce player.


The three online businesses, as well as four MyCatwalk physical stores, have been folded into a holding company, eFINITY.


Joe Sponholz, eFINITY’s executive chairman, told SmartCompany the growth potential for online retail in Australia was “phenomenal”.


“Andrew purchased them because he thinks they have a long-term business value in each of the respective verticals that they represent,” says Sponholz.


“He also believes there are synergies between these companies, especially in the back end, in the infrastructure of the companies that should be advantageous to increase their profitability.”


Sponholz, a former eCommerce executive and management consultant from the US, would not disclose the financials behind the deals, the sales figures for the sites or the visitor numbers of the sites.


“I am very excited about online retail in Australia. Australians in general are enormously sophisticated from an IT perspective and from an adoption of technology; since they have that level of sophistication retail companies will begin to build offerings to take advantage of that,” he says.


Sponholz says he expects growth in MyCatwalk, Thread People and Baby’s Got Style to double in the next two years and “in perpetuity would be nice”.


The plan is to keep the three individual brands, but Sponholz would not comment on future acquisitions or partnerships.


“Strong individual brands are an important part of what we are trying to achieve here,” he says.


“As we go out and spend more and more time with our customers, we will learn more about what they are looking for and tailor our offering to our brands.


“It would be very foolish for anyone in eCommerce to sit by and not look to change.”


eFINITY is retaining the four physical MyCatwalk stores and would consider a similar omni-channel model for the Baby’s Got Style and Thread People.


“I really consider it a luxury to have those stores, I would absolutely consider them for the other businesses if we could get the wonderful customer support and customer learning from them,” says Sponholz.


Sponholz says Roberts is committed to online retail and prepared to invest heavily in it.


“It says something about Andrew’s commitment that he went on this worldwide search to find the right person to lead this group and he has moved me and my family from the United States to Australia,” he says.


“He is quite serious about the potential in this space.”


Online retailing has been an attractive target for Australia’s wealthiest families with James Packer’s Consolidated Press part of a consortium that bought a 40% share in Catchoftheday for $80 million last year, while Packer also has a share in DealsDirect.


The acquisitions by eFINITY follows APN News & Media purchase last week of 82% of Australia’s second largest online shopping club, BrandsExclusive, for $66 million.


This story first appeared on SmartCompany.

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