In addition to revitalising our retail and marketplace offerings, we spent the year preparing to list on the Australian Stock Exchange. Listing is a major endeavour and not a road you go down without the best of the best advising you.
To that end, we engaged the services of Intrinsic Partners, a corporate advisory firm, and our legal team at SBA Law to assist with the endeavour. The team at Intrinsic Partners (including founder Quentin Miller, Jason Bagg and Ronan Fenton) undertook and guided us through an incredible amount of work and preparation for the transaction. In fact, the preparation actually commenced in 2017 when Intrinsic Partners advised Catch on a complex restructuring of the business that involved asset swaps and a joint venture with Luxury Escapes. Importantly, this resulted in Catch becoming a pure play product business, which would be more readily understood by potential acquirers and the investment market.
When we got back to Australia, the work continued. We went straight back into the meeting room with our advisers to finalise our forecast financials, create a prospectus and prepare for the analyst briefings. But it was all for naught.
No listing for us.
In the first week of September 2018, nearly a full year after we started preparing for the IPO, we received a phone call from our advisers. The message? The world economy was in flux, the markets were choppy and investors had fled the market. This was not a good time to be listing. The call was met with mixed emotions.
On one hand we were disappointed. We had put so much into it, had spent hundreds of hours preparing for it and were excited to see how far we could take the company. On the other hand, we were secretly pleased the decision to not list had been taken out of our hands.
Hezi said it best.
Not long after we got the phone call to advise us the IPO was cancelled, we received another phone call that opened up an unexpected opportunity, one much more to our liking. It was from Chadstone Shopping Centre in Melbourne, Australia's largest and busiest shopping centre. The news?
Toys R Us has gone bust. Christmas is around the corner. We have a very large empty space available for four months only, and we want Catch in it.
Nati remembers taking the phone call and thinking, ‘No way! We are too busy! We've got a million things going on. It's Christmas. We're at capacity, and we're not set up to be a bricks and mortar retailer.’ But, as a well‐known entrepreneur is renowned for saying, ‘Screw it! Let's do it!’
The time frames were tight. Few companies could harness the troops as quickly as we did to bring the opportunity to life, but moving quickly is in our DNA. It was all hands on deck, including the management team. We hadn't worked in bricks and mortar since our Springvale store got flooded more than a decade earlier, but our memories were vivid (how could we forget!) and we knew exactly what to do and how to do it. A cavalcade of activities needed to take place, each at the right time and in the right order. We needed to organise the store design and fit‐out, create store signage, order plastic bags, set up credit card facilities, install cash registers, print pricing tickets, schedule staffing rosters, book the print ads, amend the website, coordinate the warehouse, stack the shelves, deliver the stock. It was a whole‐of‐office endeavour and everyone rose to the occasion. And of course, everything was done on a shoestring budget! Russell Proud, our head of operations, took care of IT and integration while Ivan, our head of customer service, had his work cut out for him. He hired a whole new team of shop assistants and trained them to uphold and deliver the high standards our Catch customers had come to know and expect.
Within 30 days, we had transformed a 2000 m2 area into a Christmas‐themed, Catch‐branded store showcasing the best that Catch had to offer. Toys, homewares, apparel, shoes, appliances—all the top brands at Australia's best prices.
As always, we turned on the PR machine, cranked up the volume and watched the stories roll out. We secured prime time coverage on all the news and current affairs TV shows, and scored acres of newsprint in the daily newspapers. That coverage, coupled with our own campaigns, drove unprecedented levels of foot traffic not only to our store, but also to Chadstone Shopping Centre itself. We couldn't believe the response. Our shop, just a few days old, had lines forming outside that snaked down the side of the store and beyond. At one stage, on Christmas Eve, it got so busy we had to hire security guards (including Gabby, Hezi and Nati) to block the entrance because the queues were getting out of control. It was a frenzy of activity, but we loved every second of it.
We were particularly stoked to see that our recipe for success was working offline now, as well as online. Our long‐standing online customers could now come in‐store, meet us in person and say hello to the team who had been loyally serving them for so long. And conversely, customers who discovered us in‐person at Chadstone for the first time could jump on our website and see the breadth and depth of what we offered online. Our suppliers loved it as it gave them the opportunity to showcase their products to a new audience. Our management team, who all put their hands up to staff the store for a shift or two, got to hear real feedback in real time from our customers, which further informed the way the team went about their work. We've always been about getting close to the customer and now we literally were.
The entire experience was a win‐win‐win situation for all, and priceless on so many levels. Not only did it prove that we could accomplish almost any retail challenge we set our minds to, and do so in record time, it proved that we could match any bricks and mortar retailer and show them how retail is really done.
While the Chadstone store was generating record sales, our online sales were also going through the roof. November is the busiest month of the year for retailers and this year was no different. We were sending out 20 000 orders every day to our ever‐growing customer base. Seeing the business turn around after those few years of plateauing gave us all enormous gratification. Our hard work, clarity of focus and appetite for risk had seen our graphs skyrocket in the right direction. One of the most important graphs we paid attention to was the one that counted the number of unique customers who had shopped with us over the previous 12‐month period. Retailers worth their salt pay attention to this metric. It's the one that matters as it's an accurate and reliable measure of growth.
When we stepped back into the business, the unique number of customers who were shopping with us was 750 000. Eighteen months later, the number had doubled to 1.5 million unique customers. An incredible result, and a product of the many major (and minor) decisions we had made over the period. This was an important metric for us because it showed that people kept coming back to us and were telling their friends and family about us too. If people aren't happy, they don't come back, and if that number is going down, it's the canary in the coalmine for any online business. But people loved shopping with us and came back time and time again. We had the numbers to prove it.
We celebrated our thirteenth birthday, our bar‐mitzvah year, with a big party, lots of great food, drinks and music and many toasts to our team for the part they had played in bringing Catch back from the brink. It's just as well we celebrated long and hard into the night that year because little did we know that birthday celebration was to be our last with Catch. A week after celebrating the event, we received another approach, this time via email, that would change our lives forever.