Clark Rubber acquired: new owners reveal plans

By Sarah Stowe | 14 Oct 2020 View comments

Clark Rubber has been acquired by CRG Operations, a new group that brings experience in retail, international management, investment and funding.

CRG Operations comprises John Weste, Edward Plowman and Graeme Goldman.

The trio purchased the business from Franchise Council of Australia Hall of Fame inductee Chris Malcolm, who has owned the iconic retail chain since 2000.

Malcolm will stay on as an advisor with the brand for 12 months. CEO Anthony Grice and the executive team will continue to manage the business.

Inside Franchise Business Executive spoke with Anthony Grice, Edward Plowman and Graeme Goldman about the brand and plans for future growth.

Clark Rubber the brand and the retail choice

Why did the group buy Clark Rubber?

For starters, it’s an iconic brand with a proven track record, says Graeme Goldman, an entrepreneur with more than 25 years of global corporate and business experience.

Goldman has a diverse commercial background incorporating wholesale, retail, distribution, supply chain, logistics and branded products.

“We started talking [with Chris Malcolm] at the early stages of Covid. We could see our skill sets could be utilised within the business, giving it more bandwidth to grow and take it to the next stage of its lifecycle.”

A particular drawcard for CRG Operations was the mobile van franchise, introduced as a separate agreement in 2019.

Goldman points out “The key for the franchise network is being a service provider, it’s a huge part of what we want to do.”

Retail resilience and room for growth

Edward Plowman, who has spent more than 20 years in the debt and equity capital markets, says the retailer has shown it can stand up in testing times such as the pandemic.

“Clark Rubber’s product mix is highly defensive in this environment but it’s a product mix that is uncorrelated,” he says. “We see a growth opportunity to add complementary bridge products for pools, rubber and foam. We see there’s a whole bunch of opportunities that bridge the gaps.

“And there is so much fun to be had, it is 75 years old next year, and we can tap into having fun. We loved that about the brand. It is a really unique business.”

The future is about evolving the business to offer more – more categories, more merchandise – that will appeal to customers from mums in their 30s through to grandparents, says Goldman.

An omni channel approach

Chris Malcolm had a certain focus which has been hugely successful. We’re looking at it a bit differently, with a slightly different focus, where we believe there is the opportunity to widen ranges and add categories.”

The new owners will also be springboarding the online offering as part of a true omni channel approach which embraces the benefits of digital and continues to value the physical stores.

Plowman says “If you look at other parts of the world, compelling digital businesses have taken costs out of traditional retailing. But if you look deeper, some investment is going the other way. Well-run digital retailers want to get back into bricks and mortar.

“We have a huge digital focus, but an amazing store footprint,” says Goldman.

“From our perspective we are very excited because online sales don’t compete with franchisees online. We need to be able to have our stores open, when and where and how customers want to shop.”

The ecommerce allows the chain to test ideas quickly, he points out.

“We can expand into complementary products that are relevant to our customer but not totally in a Clark Rubber store.”

Clark Rubber’s retail experience

Goldman says “People still want to feel and touch. We’re social beings, we need to be interactive. Some products need expert advice and we see it as a good blend.”

Goldman highlights the continued presence of the Apple business in bricks and mortar stores as evidence that retail is about community.

“If there’s one business that could have dominated online it’s Apple. Why do they have retailers? They are one of the top brands in the world. Because you create a community. You go and see the Genius, you feel part of the team.

“Do we have an ability to take some of the best ideas? Yes, as part of the community. Owners come from the community, so we look to create more of a community environment.”

Working with the management team

Plowman says “Graeme and I are operational biased. We are going to be leveraging our backgrounds, leveraging those experiences, bandwidth and expertise and investment into the business, growing the franchisor business, and a compelling offer for franchisees. We’re here as operating buyers.

“Anthony is the leader, it’s his team and his staff. We’re here to add value, to be better performing financially but also for a more tangible, community base. We want to be in people’s homes.

“We think it’s going to work really well. There is intergenerational awareness of the brand. It’s a successful profitable business with a high performing executive team.

“We want to come to the executive and say – here are our value-adds, here’s our strategy, our bandwidth.  At the same time we will be looking to work on the business.”

The third partner in the group, John Weste, brings extensive career management experience.

“We want him to give us the next level of corporate governance, to run this like a public company. That’s the rigour,” says Plowman.

Growth and the 100 day plan

Clark Rubber will be executing on the 100 day plan now, and longer term on the strategy over the next six months and beyond.

Expect the digital and omni channel operations to be given a boost, and there are plans for a fourth product offering that is as yet under wraps – but set for a 2021 reveal.

There will be a highly considered rollout program and the pool category and vans will be crucial, the owners say. 

As CEO Anthony Grice is excited about the future. 

“This is an exciting development, we have a platform to grow, we get fresh blood into the brand and a more cost effective offer for franchisees. 

“What will the future look like? Significantly bigger, and different.

“Already this year the business has doubled the number of team members in our network development team, whose primary focus is on new franchisee recruitment.”

Grice adds, “We doubled in Covid – that’s a strong indication in our desire to grow.”