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Inside Hip Pocket

Inside Hip Pocket

Hugh NorrisHugh Norris

Hugh Norris can trace the origins of Hip Pocket Workwear back to when his father and grandfather started Norris’s Menswear on the corner of Bendigo’s Hargreaves and Mitchell Streets in 1946.

The business started as a workwear and hat shop and over the years evolved into more tailored apparel.

Hugh worked in the store learning the retail business, but really wanted to have a go on his own.

“In 1993 I took the workwear component out of our fashion store and put it into a stand alone business,” he says.

But Hugh didn’t follow any classic retail formula and he says he broke a lot of rules. For a start, Hip Pocket’s first retail outlet was hardly conventional.

Hugh persuaded his father to let him set up shop in the driveway next to the Hargreaves Street store.

After removing a roll-a-door and converting the driveway into a shop, Hip Pocket operated out of those long, narrow premises for 10 years before moving to Kennedy Street in East Bendigo.

“The business was doing well and I realised I could take it further,” Hugh says. He had seen the greater purchasing power of a buying group when his father’s business was member of Mensland Menswear.

However, Hugh’s research revealed there was no workwear buying group that offered what he was looking for so he investigated franchising his own business.

Hugh says the franchise model he has developed is very different to others. “We are not a cookie-cutter franchise - this is how you make the coffee or this is how you make the muffin - where the franchisee can’t digress from the formula. “Our model allows a lot of entrepreneurial input from the franchisees.”

Hugh says each franchise area services a slightly different mix of industries so offering a narrow line of products just doesn’t work. “We allow our franchisees to source product from any supplier that their customers want. “Naturally we also have a set of core suppliers who we buy in volume from to get better prices.”

Hugh says this approach can cause some problems, because there is so much diversity, but it gives franchisees more scope and opportunity to grow their businesses.Hugh Norris on the cover of Enterprise

This has been proven through the recent sales of the Ballarat and Mildura stores, which produced good returns on investment for the owners.

There are now 32 Hip Pocket stores around Australia and the company is expanding internationally with 2 stores in Papua New Guinea.

The Australian stores are a mix of greenfield sites and conversions, and include some “stores within stores”, especially in smaller regional towns where the volumes don’t justify a stand-alone business.

There’s still a strong family involvement at Hip Pocket, with Hugh’s wife Renee running the financial side of the business and her parents operating the Kangaroo Flat franchise. And the family ethos permeates the entire franchise network.

Hugh says franchisee conferences are more like having friends in for a drink.

Hugh says a number of people told him his franchise model wouldn’t work, but he’s very proud of what he’s achieved in the past eight years.

And he’s particularly pleased he’s been able to do it from Bendigo. He says the city’s information technology infrastructure means you can live where you want to live.

“You don’t have to move to Melbourne or Sydney to run a national or international business and there are a number of people here that have clearly demonstrated that.

“And we are exceptionally fortunate to have a nationally recognised brand such as the Bendigo Bank.

“It gives every other business in Bendigo credibility that we can support an institution of that size in a regional centre.”

Hugh says the future is good for Hip Pocket despite the uncertain economic outlook.

“We’re lucky that many products, such as safety wear, are legislated for and are not discretionary spending.”

And, according to Hugh, because tradespeople are so hard on their work clothes they need replacing regularly.

All Hip Pocket stores are trading above their budgets and Hugh is enthusiastic about the national and international expansion of the franchise.

“I was told I was too young to be franchisor at the age of twenty-eight,” he says.

“But I was confident and I’m forever grateful to Peter and Cathy Keller at Ballarat who took on the first Hip Pocket franchise."

“My reward is knowing that I’m delivering value to my franchisees.”

Article Courtesy of Enterprise Magazine.