When you have been in business for decades, there may come a time when you find that the status quo is no longer optimum and it’s time to pivot the company in another direction. Canadian company TT Group has found itself in this position several times throughout the years, first growing and expanding from a fun sock manufacturer to a manufacturer and wholesale distributor of several shoe brands including Tender Tootsies that capture value and comfort for consumers.
Now TT Group is there again – as the world of retail and manufacturing has changed, TT Group is changing with it, shifting away from manufacturing and repositioning itself as a retailer and distributor. It’s a new challenge, but through it TT Group is hoping to reach consumers in all new ways.
“We’ve never been much into marketing – our brand name’s been around so long, we’ve mainly been just a strict manufacturer sending out good product year after year and relying on that,” says Paul Perivolaris, Vice President and Partner at TT Group. But as the company is shifting into the retail and distribution sectors, marketing is critical – and along with the building of its online store, scheduled to soft launch in early 2015, TT Group is building an online presence through social media.
“New media is a much more cost effective way of getting to our customer,” says Perivolaris, noting particular success on Facebook. “Our retail stores are only in Ontario, but we’re a national brand and the only way we can get quickly to the rest of the country is online. We get a lot of calls from people in Vancouver and Quebec asking where they can get our shoes, and now we’ll have a more direct way to put them in touch with our product. It’s an instant connect for our customers across the country which we like, and a relatively cost effective way of doing it for sure.”
Searching for Partnerships
In addition to marketing its own house brands, TT Group is also searching for the right independent shoe brands that the company can provide a distribution channel for on their online store.
“We’re more looking at different partnerships, more brands to distribute in Canada,” says Perivolaris. “That’s kind of been our growth strategy, as little internal overhead growth as possible and more external partnerships. Our infrastructure allows us to grow fivefold. So if someone’s trying to come into Canada – why start their own office, their own warehouse, and their own IT departments to service the same customers we’re already serving?”
According to Perivolaris, TT Group is looking for partners with a clear and defined marketing and development strategy already in place, so that TT Group can operate simply in the background. “We’re all accounting based brains with a product background, but most of the partners we’re looking for have a really interesting product that they are really passionate about and can go sell it and we process it,” he explains. “That’s what we’re looking for to utilize. Internally, we want to concentrate on Tender Tootsies – it is already the biggest brand in the store, and we want to make it the house brand in Canada. I think we have a competitive advantage there, and that’s what we’re looking at.”
When a company has been around as long as TT Group, maintaining strong relationships with partners, suppliers, and clients over the course of decades is critical. At TT Group, those relationships are treated like a personal relationship.
“It’s exactly the same philosophy as I have with maintaining friendships,” says Pervolaris. “I don’t talk to my suppliers any different than I talk to my customers or my employees, and we’ve had that core value through our company since our birth. I still work with people who I worked with the whole sixteen or seventeen years I’ve been here now. The buyers I deal with, I’ve grown up with. So we deal with employees the way we deal with everyone else – we’re honest and treat them like human beings. It’s not a huge strategy, we just generally empathize with their situation and hope they do the same for us.”
Looking Forward to the Future
After such radical changes in the TT Group structure, the company is looking forward to the future with optimism and excitement no matter what shape that future takes, whether it’s acquiring a stable of brands to distribute or being acquired into a global company itself. The most important next step is examining how to grow in this new space as a distributor and retailer through further promotion and growth.
“Dominating Canada is our goal, and then we can start to expand on our US presence in the future,” says Perivolaris. “We’ve got to reestablish in Canada first, and retail’s going to be a huge part of that but we’re going to do it in combination with wholesale. We’re going to open as many stores as we can, as opportunities come up, and going online is our big first step to see where our sales are coming from and what areas of the country are our strongest. Then maybe fill in some brick and mortar stores there as well.
“It’s going to be interesting to see,” he adds. “From a product development point of view we’ve got to be a lot more clever, and just concentrate on building the brand. Without the brand we’re nothing. Tender Tootsies is a silly name, but everyone knows it and everyone likes it, keep it fun and happy and expand on that.”