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Corinne Callinan

by fatweb

Legging it

By Melinda Collins

She’s got the tights, not sure about the cape and although she doesn’t wear her underwear outside her pants, super-businesswoman Corinne Callinan has taken on the big boys — and won.

Callinan waged a corporate war against an Australian giant and today is standing on her own two nylon clad feet with a million dollar hosiery empire of her own.

The businesswoman always had an entrepreneurial streak. With a background in corporate blue chip multinationals in senior marketing management roles, Callinan spent two years actively searching for the stand-out which would entice her to leave the corporate world.

It never came… but she did receive a lot of compliments for the high fashion tights she had been sent from overseas. “After the third compliment the penny dropped and I realised there could be something in this.” That something was hosiery. The downside, she soon realised, was going head to head — or toe to toe — with Australian giant Pacific Brands, which owns most of the hosiery brands in New Zealand supermarkets and Farmers stores.

“Looking at the market, they dominated in New Zealand and Australia in all channels. But in my view, they were complacent with that. There had been no product or packaging innovation or advertising in a long time.

“The consumer deserved better and I was confident I could deliver better than the market leader was.”

High end to mainstream brands

She established a high end fashion brand and a mainstream brand simultaneously under the umbrella of her company CXC, established in 2003. Then it was off to the market.

Callinan targeted supermarkets because they would give her critical mass. Previous employment in fast moving consumer goods meant she was familiar with the inner workings. “With the supermarket trade, relationships are very important. I was confident that myself and my team could do better than others were.”

She went straight to one of the biggest New Zealand trade customers before starting product development to discuss what the category was doing well and where improvement could be made. However, while sizing up the market, she quickly learned that size mattered in more ways than one.

Hosiery, like many other products, she discovered was under increasing pressure for space, particularly with the rise of new categories, such as alcohol and ready meals. A trend towards using bigger packaging for brand impact was exacerbating the problem.

Space, packaging solutions

In response to the supermarkets’ space issue, Callinan shunned the traditional envelope style pack for StepOut and developed a square box that requires a third less shelf space.

The proposition was compelling; not only did Callinan have a solution to the supermarkets’ space problem, she was able to present an opportunity to expand the category through greater variety and higher value product.

“Bringing the new segments (premium and fashion products) improved value in the category, brought new shoppers into the supermarkets and diversified the supermarket offerings.”

It was a success; all of the country’s 340 Foodstuffs and Progressive Enterprises supermarkets now stock her range and annual turnover exceeds $1 million. “Do the research well and then be prepared to put your balls on the line and do it. It’s hard work,” she says of the journey.

“It’s about being very clear about the market opportunity and the product offering, making sure it really did have a number of points of difference — they were the key things.”

Growth was rapid but not without sacrifice. Continuing to work full time in her first year of business she would arrive home at 6pm, work on her venture from 6pm to 10pm, sleep, work from 2am to 4am, sleep and then work 6am to 7.30am before making it back to the office for a full day of work.

“I didn’t come up for air for a number of years. I didn’t socialise, I had no Christmas, no New Year.

“My friends thought I was having some mad, passionate affair. It had to be that intense or I wouldn’t have got there.”

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