Stern sets sights on brand differentiation in his first CEO role at Australian Ugg Boots

Former Kathmandu, Kmart and Schweppes marketing leader takes up his first chief executive post at Australian manufacturer and retailer

Brand differentiation based on local credentials is in the sights of new Australian Ugg Boots chief executive, Paul Stern, as he takes up the reins of his first CEO position.

Australian Ugg Boots is one of a handful of Ugg Boot manufacturers producing products on local shores that competes against more well-known brand, Ugg, owned by American company, Deckers. The privately owned business started up in 2006 reselling footwear, before taking the plunge and developing its own local manufacturing capabilities from 2014.

Australian Ugg Boots is now selling 90 per cent of its products locally, and about 10 per internationally, through a core ecommerce site, factory outlet in Melbourne and several wholesale partners.

Stern told CMO he was attracted to the role for several reasons, the first of which was the opportunity to run a business with P&L ownership. Prior to joining Australian Ugg Boots, Stern worked for Kathmandu for 10 years, most recently as general manager of marketing and online. During his tenure, he also spearheaded the company’s sustainability program, international operations and business development. His work saw him honoured in the top 20 of the CMO50 list of Australia's most innovative and effective marketing leaders.

Over the last year, he’s completed his Australian Institute of Company Directors course as well as helped Decjuba on strategic projects and joined the St Leonards School Board. Stern’s resume also includes marketing leadership roles with Kmart, AS Watson and Schweppes Australia.

“This business offered the opportunity of both local manufacture and retail,” Stern commented. “It’s a business with plenty of growth potential domestically as well as internationally through wholesale opportunities and both online and in the physical environment.

Paul SternCredit: Kathmandu
Paul Stern

“It looked like a great challenge where I could both leverage my skills and experience but also learn new things. I’ve also worn Ugg boots my whole life, through winter and summer, and I love the product.”

As a marketer, Stern said he comes with a customer-centric view and agenda. He noted Australian Ugg Boots has customers of all shapes and sizes, from young to old.

“Ultimately, the success or failure of this business will depend on my ability to understand the customer, who they are, their needs, what’s important in their purchase decision and what’s not,” he continued.

“I think having worked in retail and digital marketing, I have learnt a lot about practical aspects like product management, pricing, promotional calendars, shipping, CRM and many other important elements to enable a successful business model. Building and engaging a team of great people behind the scenes is incredibly important, as is being innovative and taking some calculated risks.

“Having said that, having a strategy and well thought through financial plan gives you a solid base to begin.”

As to initial priorities, the first three months for Stern is about learning as much as he can from the people already in the business, how they operate and why they do things the way they do. Meeting with key suppliers to get their input is another item on the to-do list.

“I’ll be learning as much as I can about the products we sell, how they are made, how they are shipped, who the customers are that buy them, identifying where there are gaps and opportunities,” he said.

Already, Stern has spotted the need to elevate Australian Ugg Boots’ local credentials as a way to differentiate the brand. He pointed out the products are not only locally manufactured, but also use sheep’s wool from NSW and Victorian farms. The company also works closely with the Australia Made Campaign and is part of the Australian Sheepskin Association.

“I am sure there is no shortage of opportunities, but I want and need time to get a good feel for the place before taking any major decisions or driving the business in a certain direction,” he added. “The business is performing quite well as it is, so for now it’s about keeping the trajectory while I learn the business.”

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