Intelligent and genuinely a good guy, there isn’t much Paul Delaney doesn’t know about the fashion industry. After years in the rag trade it’s still hard to drag him away from the shop floor.
Fifteen-year-old Kasia Delaney can’t find where she put her Girlfriend magazine. Kasia’s sure she left it on the table in the kitchen and knows her two brothers Tim and Jan wouldn’t have taken it. She sits down on the couch next to her dad Paul and smiles. Her dad points to a great top in a Girlfriend fashion spread and says: “Wouldn’t that be great for the shop!”
Kasia secretly admits she loves having a dad that works in fashion, is up to date with the latest brands and notices her taste in clothes.
“It’s pretty cool,” Kasia laughs. “A few weeks ago he gave me the Stussy Spring 2008 catalogue, dad asked me which clothes I thought would be good for the shop and what types of clothes kids are wearing these days. It’s great, I’m right at the age where my friends and I are trying new things.”
Whether it’s coming from his three kids, friends or customers at the stores, Paul Delaney is a cool guy with a great sense of fashion. He has spent years in the rag trade (selling, manufacturing, owning factories and as a senior partner of the Roadhouse chain) and after doing his time in the industry, Paul just seems to get it.
Yet, after dabbling in all areas of the retail industry, Paul actually gave up the rag trade for a while and considered owning his own sandwich shop.
“I really did, I considered starting a sandwich bar for some time and I worked in one to see what was involved. I love cooking and food, but it wasn’t really what I expected and somehow fate kept steering me towards the fashion industry,” says Paul.
This is where Rowan Hill walks in. When both Paul and Rowan had clothing factories, Rowan got out of manufacturing first but would kidnap Paul regularly for lunch. About a year later Paul had sold his clothing factory and Rowan asked him to look after his retail shop for two weeks. After Rowan came back, the partnership continued from there.
It was eight years ago the pair began in a store in Richmond Plaza and these were the early days of initially building a brand – Roadhouse. It also gave them the perfect opportunity to have an owner operator running the stores. It was here the Roadhouse business model was born and from this they have evolved it into the successful chain of stores that are apparent today.
“One of the reasons the stores are successful and our partnership is so good is that we’ve never had an argument, and we’ve been in business together for eight years. Not to mention Paul and I are friends on a personal level as well. Paul is professional, courteous and well-liked by everyone, and the chemistry between the two of us works. It was his professionalism and the fact that he is thorough, strong and honest, that I knew he would be a good business partner,” says Rowan.
Surely they’ve had one argument I ask; however, Rowan informs me otherwise. He does admit there is something about Paul that annoys him.
“He can drink more than I can,” laughs Rowan.
All jokes aside when it comes to the business Paul is a fun, yet serious boss. He has adopted the principle that the Roadhouse team are a united front and each member of the team plays an important part. All staff are highly skilled trained people, so you’re not just dealing with a ‘check-out’ person, they’re friendly people who can approach anyone and carry on a conversation.
“It’s not necessarily about selling the customer; it’s about enjoying the experience. People come into our shops and we’re happy to have them, especially in the middle of a DFO. A lot of the time the bloke is just killing time while his girlfriend or wife is shopping, which is great, fine, we call it a refuge for blokes,” laughs Paul.
The most challenging part of this refuge for Paul is forecasting the stock. He has to be on the ball in regards to fashion and constantly considering what is going to sell in seven months: What is the weather going to be like? Is it going to be raining? Is it going to be sunny? Shops are stocked based on past experience, so as the winters are warmer, lighter winter garments need to be bought.
However, Paul mentions there is also a flip side because with the DFO chain they sell to more than just the local area – customers are coming from all over Australia and the world.
“In the holiday periods we have a guy from Darwin who has come in the three Christmases we’ve been open. Each time he has happily bought 10 t-shirts and he is glad to come back to somewhere that he recognises. We also have customers from New Zealand and England, and if we don’t have the stock, we’re happy to post it for them,” says Paul.
But it’s this passion for stocking the stores that drives Paul to ensure each year the guys get it right and they hit their target market with their buying. Out of the Roadhouse and Joe Bloggs stores, the latter is harder to stock and Paul relies on their young and passionate staff and his kids for advice. A younger demographic, Joe Bloggs is much faster in its fashion and sometimes they can get the buying very wrong. Paul finds using the staff from the Joe Bloggs store helps because they are in the shop and they get the feel of what is happening when people are walking through.
“It is very fulfilling; you have your own store which you have to stock and you give it blood so to speak. It has to be alive, you’ve got to be a team, then again they have to work that stock – they have to be a family and all work together.”
You can hear in Paul’s voice how proud he is of the success of all the stores. The boys have developed a unique concept and have covered all their bases. What started as a small business selling men’s work boots and some casual gear, has become not only a chain of stores, but a brand in itself.
“It’s the unique product mix in Roadhouse, from work boot through to smart men’s shirts. It’s likewise with Joe Bloggs, they have a fantastic array of brands from street brands and skate brands, to women’s wear, and it’s a great mix. People walk in and it’s not a single branded store, they’re not looking at one aspect. You can walk into a Joe Bloggs store and it’s male and female, there is Mossimo and there is Emily the Strange, and they don’t normally sit side by side. The store boasts two totally different demographics and they all mix together very well.”
Spending time with the team in Hong Kong manufacturing is also a highlight of Paul’s work. For Paul, Hong Kong showcases the best retailers in the world with the latest fashion. Sometimes the clothes are too slanted towards the Asian market, but it’s great to see how the best in the world are doing it.
“In Hong Kong it’s amazing to see how they’re setting up their shops, how they’re presenting the product they’re selling. It’s the way they hang their jeans, simple things like that, it really does help and inspire and you come back with a new outlook.
“Yes, we do pick up product in Hong Kong, some of which we can put directly into work over there through contacts and agents that we have in China, some we will bring back here just for the memory bank and the library so to speak. Personally, I think the most important part of Hong Kong is looking at what they’re doing and how they’re doing it. We do get very insular because we’re trapped in our own four store walls and they’re very important four walls, but sometimes you need to step out of that,” he explains.
Paul has his sights firmly set on the future. With the DFO concept constantly growing, he is looking forward to more partners being brought into the business and the fresh influence they will bring. He realises that he will one day step away from being on the floor in the business and each of the partners will be running different segments behind the scenes.
This would include more travel between the partners across Australia as Paul believes this is a necessity, because while each Roadhouse store needs to be a little different to suit its demographics, each also has to have the same core base and beliefs.
Whatever the future holds for the Roadhouse chain, it seems when Paul is around success seems to follow.