CHAPTER 4
Recession? Shmecession!

In 2009, the clouds of recession were brewing on the horizon. The US stock market had crashed and as they used to say, ‘When the US coughs, the rest of the world catches a cold’. It's well known that when a recession hits, consumers close their wallets, especially on retail and luxury items. For us at Catchoftheday, nothing could have been further from the truth.

By now we were well established as a clearance house and this recession created incredible opportunities for businesses like ours. Suppliers stuck with stock came knocking like never before.

Cancelled orders, slow‐moving items, customers not buying—the supplier's pain was our gain. The recession was a perfect storm that Catchoftheday needed.

While a recession can hurt many people, we were fortunate in that we were able to play Robin Hood in some ways by giving consumers access to deals the big retailers just couldn't offer. These deals genuinely helped households hit hard by the recession to save money and reduce the impact the recession had on so many.

As we write these words, the world is in the midst of the COVID‐19 pandemic, and we're fighting each other for the last roll of toilet paper at the supermarkets. The future right now is worryingly unclear, but what is clear is that many businesses will not survive this storm because only the strongest businesses can thrive during tough times. Catchoftheday is one of them. We have truly built a recession‐proof, COVID‐19‐proof, bullet‐proof business that will be here for many years to come.

That recession of 2009 brought us many opportunities, such as the attention of Today Tonight. We'd been wanting to be featured on national TV for a long time and now was our chance. We can split our Catch experience into two eras: before our appearance on Today Tonight, and after our appearance on Today Tonight. The difference was like … well … day and night. Watch the video on our website, catchofthedecade.com.au.

How four minutes of fame made us a fortune

We knew TV was powerful; we just didn't know how powerful. After a big day at the Catch office selling millions of dollars’ worth of goods, Gabby went on air and in four minutes created a segment that would reap huge rewards for us the following day. His TV script went something like this:

In just 24 hours, we sold $1.4 million worth of goods. 550 TVs. 80 vacuum cleaners. 600 handbags. Recession? Shmecession! Thousands of parcels leave this building every single day … We are one of Australia's top three department stores … We are Australia Post's biggest client …

and on it went.

The results were phenomenal. Within 24 hours of the show airing, more than 50 000 new members joined the database. It had previously taken us 12 months to sign up 50 000 new members. In other words, we achieved in one night what had previously taken us a year.

Watching our first segment air and then seeing the sales results the next day reaffirmed our commitment to getting as much media coverage as we could. We estimated each appearance on TV was worth an extra $100 000 in sales.

Who said PR doesn't work?

We are the Amazon of Australia.

We are Australia's most watched shopping site.

We are Australia's number‐one e‐commerce group.

It's lines like these that got us noticed by the media. We were a tiny ship on the retail ocean so we had to do something special to get attention. Even with the best business idea in the world, if no‐one knows about you, you've got nothing.

PR was our primary way of getting noticed as it built credibility. This gave the consumer confidence. Confidence built trust. Without trust, people won't buy from you, and so the cycle continues. So, how do you get people to pay attention? Get some good PR. Here are a few tips.

  • Be relevant and targeted: do your research and tailor your media pitch accordingly. For example, business or finance journalists will want statistics and facts to support your claims of growth or leadership. If you are pitching to TV, provide them with colourful images that make the story sizzle. For one Christmas TV feature, 40 members of our warehouse team dressed up in Santa outfits, with Gabby as head Santa leading the troops!

    Photo depicts the peak season of Christmas, so people are colourful and fun.

    Christmas was peak season for us so we courted the media like crazy, and it's images like this—colourful and fun—that really got us coverage. Each four‐minute segment was worth at least $100 000 in sales to us.

  • Build relationships: we always strived to be helpful and of value to the media by providing them with trend data and insights to help them build their stories. We also gave them exclusive news opportunities and were available when they needed a comment. All the business journalists had our mobile numbers and knew they could call us at any time. We quite often got called by TV channels asking to do a story within an hour or two. When that happened, we dropped everything and rushed to the chosen location.
  • Be brave: to become a memorable brand you need to stand for something and defend that territory. Catch is synonymous with great prices. We never shied away from having an opinion, especially when we saw our customers being ripped off by the major retailers, and we actively supported our position with stories and data that brought this message to life.
  • Be excited: if you're not excited about your story/business/message, why should the journalist be?
    Photo depicts that the media people capturing Gabby.

    Gabby: When the media called, we jumped into action. Often I had shorts and thongs on. Just as well they only shot from the waist up!

  • Build the story for the reporter: journalists are time poor and often may decline a story because they don't have the time to cover it. Make it easy for them to say ‘yes’ by bringing to them what they need to easily build the story. People often asked how we got so many TV stories that were pretty much like ads. We invested a lot of time in building out the media assets so we could give them a fully packaged story. These packages contained comparison pricing data, crazy deals, details of customers willing to be filmed in their home and full access to our warehouse. We even got Australia Post involved as part of the story. We put the work in and it paid off.
  • Tell stories with data: if you want to be an authority in your space, then being able to talk to trends and provide predictions is a great way to build that position, as well as provide media with a new and interesting perspective. Catch is a data‐driven company, so we were able to build insightful stories that revealed how people shopped and what they bought, and provided predictions around future shopping trends.
  • Preparation is key: every interview is an opportunity to tell your story, and in order to do that you need to pre‐plan the key points you want to get across. Build out a number of key messages for different scenarios in readiness for guiding any interview opportunity as it arises. If you're going on TV, wear a branded T‐shirt so people are visually reminded of who you represent.
  • Be consistent: successful PR is a marriage, not a one‐off date. To see success, you need to maintain a presence in the media and be consistent so you can maintain your share of voice and be recognised by the media as the ‘go‐to’ expert for that story. PR has been the core element of our marketing communications and has been critical to positioning us as a trusted household brand.

We had always been pretty good at going out and getting our own PR, but the professionals do it the best. Here's Melissa Shawyer from The PR Group on how and why we as a team were able to generate millions of dollars in coverage.

How to stay ahead

People often ask us, ‘How did you keep ahead of the rest?’ and ‘How did you know what the next big thing would be?’ The answer is simple. We read, watched and listened to everything to do with our industry. We read the business pages of every newspaper every day, subscribed to all the trade publications, listened to industry podcasts and kept an eye on everything.

Say ‘yes’ and work the rest out later

During 2010, our list of suppliers kept on growing. More household brands—such as Adidas, Cadbury, Sheridan and Canon—started appearing on Catch.

Perhaps our favourite newcomer was Antler, one of Australia's most respected luggage brands. After just one meeting with them, we got our first offer, a true clearance deal at a size that we had never seen before: 900 pallets. Forty semi‐trailer loads of suitcases. OMG!

While we had moved into our 4000 m2 Moorabbin warehouse a month earlier, the place was already close to being full. Business was still booming and orders were coming in from everywhere. What do we do with the Antler offer? Let it go? Take it up? The deal is great. We can't let it go. We had promised Antler we could help them with some clearance deals, but this deal was so massive we had nowhere to store the pallets. As luck would have it, across the road from us was a vacant warehouse with a ‘For lease’ sign on it. We didn't think twice. We immediately rented it for 12 months at $100 000 per year, paid Antler $1 million for the stock and accepted 900 pallets of the highest quality luggage you can imagine. That one Antler deal netted us $1 million in less than four months.

The lesson? When someone offers you a great deal, say ‘yes’ and work the rest out later.

That year—2010—was without a doubt the busiest, most stressful year of our lives. Everything we'd ever wanted was coming our way, but as always, we were working at full capacity and just kept taking on more and more. As they say, if you want something done, give it to a busy person.

Meanwhile, our brand‐new start‐up—a fledgling little thing called Scoopon—was being bootstrapped out the back of the building, and we mean that literally.

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Source: Photo by Josh Robenstone

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