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  • Subject area(s): Marketing
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  • Published on: 14th September 2019
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The R.M. Williams company, founded by Reginald Murray Williams in 1932, has expanded from a “brand of discovery” (Carruther, 2016), to generating $128.2 million in annual revenue (2013). Yet in today's society, the “slice of Australiana” that R.M. Williams offers has its setbacks, in that it may be smothered by the global competitors' grander scale campaigns. In this essay, the corporate, competitive and functional strategies that R.M. Williams have effected, are executing and will implement in order to stay current and successful will be explored, in addition to R.M. Williams' approach to the six key elements to organisational design. Thirdly and finally, the possible barriers to effective communication that R.M. Williams might face will be investigated.

When Williams created his first pair of boots, commercialism and business was not his focus, but instead ‘on the back of necessity' (article). Therefore, R.M. Williams' strategies did not consider the realities of the external environment when he established the company; the initial corporate strategy to sell unique, durable Australian leatherwork had little scope for growth in production, lack of sustainable customer base and unsustainable funding, and in order to implement solutions to these issues the R.M. Williams Company required money, time and publicity, of which he could not obtain. It could not find stability when the economy was unstable due to the gold rush unpredictability. Additionally, the ability of renewal, in addressing declining performance, was not an option; Williams had to sell two houses and accrue short term money through gold rush luck to keep the company alive. The R.M. Williams Company also struggled in the competitive strategy in that it was restricted to Australia only, lacking funds to seek global enterprises. However, the selling point of the R.M. Williams Company was that their product was unique, from the “single piece of leather' original design to the timeless leatherwork, giving them a competitive edge over imitations and other boot creations which lacked quality. R.M. Williams attempted to implement a cost leadership strategy by offering pairs of boots for 20 shillings, underselling to attract customers which in turn left him at a loss, damaging sustainability and stability. While Williams succeeded short term in being competitive, functionality could not be achieved at the prices he advertised contrasted with the expenses of maintaining the company and sourcing product materials.

In 1993 Ken Cowley, Williams' “long time friend”, becomes the owner of the R.M. Williams Company, deciding alongside new executive designer Jonathan Ward to “modernise the range; lightening fabrics and putting elastane into its heavy fabrics” in order to urbanise the brand to increase sales, particularly in newly opened stores. Alongside the urbanisation of the product range, Cowley grew the number of urban outlets from “21 to 50, including one in New Zealand and New York”. Cowley's corporate strategy in building the R.M. Williams brand as a name brand both nationally and internationally was also demonstrated through the publicity of R.M. Williams-wearing celebrities and politicians, namely President Bill Clinton in 1993 who was inaugurated in a pair. While Cowley received national backlash in selling a “great national icon” to foreign investors when R.M. Williams proclaimed to be “wholly Australian owned”, by selling 49.9% of the company to L Capital in 2013, the value of the R.M Williams company rose from $53 million from when Cowley took over ownership to $120 million (2013). Cowley also retained the original mission of Williams, not sacrificing quality and durability of products and keeping the “Australian spirit” embodied in the company by continuing to manufacture in Australia, remaining Australian owned with 50.1% of Australian ownership. The 49.9% of ownership through L Capital is also on board with the respect of local production and Australian heritage, as their ‘fashion brands' are in line with an “aspirational, affordable and alternative” category instead of luxury and exclusivity, requiring the R.M. Williams boot to retain their unique ruggedness to remain in their fashion brand target group. Cowley's involvement in the R.M. Williams brand was an effective corporate strategy; he grew the company in sales, target population and reintroduced the company as more than just a ‘word of mouth' local brand but an Australian icon in a global environment. Its stability is secure through the involvement of L Capital and the introduction of new stores nationally and internationally; where timeless products and range of attire continue to be sold at a sustainable profit. As R.M. Williams is now established as a well known brand, the risk of declining performance is unlikely, however the chances can be reduced by the updating of logos, advertisements of products, opening new stores, and retaining the Australian story throughout the brand. The competitive strategy of R.M. Williams is formulated around the anecdotal evidence and long-lasting quality of their products, where customers advertise their products through the long-term durability compared to cheap comparisons, word-of-mouth appraisals allowing R.M. Williams to charge more for better quality and focusing on quality instead of ‘lowest prices'. The current functional strategies to support the competitive edge of R.M. Williams include not skimping on costs to continue selling the best products; keeping the core focus on the Australian heritage, not the commercialism of global enterprises.

In accordance with the corporate, competitive and functional strategies that the R.M. Williams Company have implemented to ensure sustainability in a modernised society, their approach to the six key elements of organisational design is woven throughout their intricate history and development. Firstly, their work specialisation is evolved from the origins of two stockmen who did all the work; stitching, shaping and selling their unique boots, to hiring small teams of craftsmen to carry out the manufacturing while he advertised the business. As the R.M. Williams brand gained momentum, as did the scope for work specialisation; the ability to pay for labour allowed Williams to delegate instead of solely operate. The R.M. Williams Company now has 300 workers in Salisbury making around 700 pairs of hand-finished boots a day, a far cry from Williams' mail ordered boot origins. Therefore, work specialisation is possible with different departments cooperating to manufacture, box, sell and sustain the company. Efficiency and effectiveness is increased by the ability to specialise; when every employee and employer focuses on their strengths, R.M. Williams can function to its optimum standard, generating higher revenue every year. Secondly, in departmentalising tasks to specific groups of employees, R.M. Williams specialises locations for manufacturing, for executive decision making, and in particular globally distributes products and stores to achieve a higher economic advantage contrasted with locally based companies. R.M. Williams groups their activities by functionality; as a larger scale company they need the physical separation of the manufacturing, supplying and distributing industries. Geographic departmentalisation is integrated in order to generate greater revenue, with stores strategically placed in urbanised areas both locally and internationally to alert a greater populace of the R.M. Williams brand. Thirdly, the authority of R.M. Williams comes from the executive board and delegated to CEO Raju Vuppalapati who ensures his responsibilities are fulfilled through lower level managers, such as Michael Williams who runs the production of boots in Salisbury. The chain of command of R.M. Williams is essential to see Vuppalapati's directives through; such as the consolidation of the “look and feel” of the 50 Australian and New Zealand stores, the involvement of “R.M. Williams branded products in US department stores”, and in the long term the introduction to Asian marketing opportunities. None of the aforementioned goals are attainable without the functionality of line authority; from the top of the chain of command to the bottom, clear delegation is imperative to achieve grander scale objectives. Additionally, in demonstrating authority, Vuppalapati and the chain of command must assert their legitimacy to not only maintain a structured management system, but also to preach the maxim of “a company with purpose” in their treatment of employees, enabling subordinates to believe in their authority and the company.

The fourth key element delves into span of control; Williams initially found span of control redundant due to the lack of employees, but now as the company has exponentially grown to its greater capacity, its managers of low, middle and top level status require the utmost capability to manage. Michael Williams oversees 300 workers, but his experience of 44 years in the business gives him a greater span of control; knowing the industry inside out from its origins to its current global position, contrasted with a R.M. Williams store manager who while given a managerial role, will not possess the same span of control, overseeing less employees. Fifthly, to a large extent R.M. Williams's missions are highly centralised, with the decisions to expand customer base overseas and the selling of the business to L Capital being solely executive decisions. Decentralisation to some extent exists; with lower level managers having the ability to invest in the company's heritage, in particular Michael Williams, where their lifelong commitment adds testament to the brand and is rewarded in the forms of promotions, but in terms of grander scale decisions, centralised decisions are the sole source of corporate progress. Finally, formalisation is integrated through the restricted apparel items R.M. Williams advertise, in that there is a limited framework of quality products, uncluttered by meaningless additional licensing agreements. The formalisation of the R.M. Williams company is wholly bound by their ‘meaningful story'; where employees' and managers' jobs are guided by the passion and unique drive Williams implemented all the way back in 1932.

R.M. Williams is predicted to take on a successful global journey, but with optimism comes scope for barriers and opposition; R.M. Williams has always adopted the use of the grapevine, from its roots of Dollar Mike and Williams' original pair to the uniquely Australian “brand of discovery”, the word-of-mouth brand discovered by a colleague, a local celebrity or a stranger sporting a pair. While R.M. Williams stayed afloat due to its incredibly positive reviews which spread locally, internationally it was unheard of, and for a business to be successful in the modern age, the grapevine was not adequate to attract overseas interest. L Capital will be instrumental in introducing the Australian brand to the international market, where their experience will allow R.M. Williams to communicate their branding more effectively and branch out their grapevine to impact a larger market. The grapevine, while semi-effective, requires assistance to reach its potential; it must be accompanied by credibility in the form of anecdotal evidence, transparency of R.M. Williams and a reliable customer base. Barriers to effective communication come in many forms, from interpersonal to interpersonal. To start with, R.M. Williams executives used filtering when they sold the business to L Capital saying that R.M. Williams was ‘wholly Australian owned', manipulating the receivers to believe that ‘wholly' was defined as 100%, whereas in the stock market reality dictated it was a 50.1% Australian ownership. The absence of the statistical information led to confusion and outrage by receivers, where the vagueness of information led to incorrect conclusions. The second barrier, selective perception, prevented R.M. Williams from exploring international options as they were perceived within the company and externally as an Australian brand, not considering the opportunities of expanding while retaining the Australian roots. Thirdly, information overload played a huge part in cluttering up the R.M. Williams icon when ‘companies produced homewares, eyewear and jewellery under the R.M. Williams brand'; adding white noise to a meaningful story, and loyalists lost the Australian heritage under the clutter. Removing licensing agreements allowed the information to become manageable and processable.

The fourth barrier is emotions, where customers can feel alienated purchasing a rurally targeted product in an urbanised setting, where “people who have never even sat on a horse” can find a mental struggle to connect with the products. Additionally the fifth barrier, language, adds another wall when products they are encouraged to buy are described in rugged outback terminology and made from unusual hide, such as kangaroo or crocodile skin, turning away less open-minded individuals. As the original R.M. Williams branding tailored to men's taste, disregarding females as the initial boots were crafted for mines and rural settings, the original campaigns were male targeted. In current times, new lines of R.M Williams boots are tailored for women, and the campaign is all about the “Australian spirit” instead of ‘suits and boots' in 2001. Finally, national culture in Australia is all about diversity and unity, hence the usage of the grapevine to reach different circles of people back in 1932 when R.M. Williams was established, but in today's day and age, the barrier of national culture is prominent when exploring the international options, as previously mentioned in establishing a brand from more means than the grapevine, and targeting advertisements to different cultures who respond differently to the Australian way of life. R.M. Williams will need to consider these communication barriers as they open a new international chapter in order to succeed.

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