After reading the latest results of Noni B and examining its much publicised struggle, its situation reflects not just today’s current retail landscape, but what it was like to grow as a retailer in the historically isolated island that is Australia.

Cast your mind back for a moment to 1977 (if you can remember).

The world and Australia was a radically different environment, far more conservative, traditional, and generally with a more predictable customer – which I suspect has now gone forever.

What did it look like back then?

  • Bjorn Borg defeated J. Connors at Wimbledon (3-6 6-2 6-1 5-7 6-4)
  • Star Wars hit theatres for the first time (and would go on to be the second highest grossing film of all time)
  • Saturday Night Fever sparked the disco inferno and the popularity of movie soundtracks
  • Elvis Presley died at Graceland at age 42
  • Rocky was named Best Picture at the Academy Awards
  • The first Apple computer went on sale
  • Jimmy Carter was elected US president
  • And, the last execution by guillotine in France took place.

Meanwhile in Australia,

  • Kerry Packer was ridiculed for suggesting that cricket be played with limited overs, in coloured uniforms, with a white ball, at night
  • The median house price was $37,000
  • Westfield had 15 shopping centres in Australia
  • Our population was 14 million
  • And Noni B was born.

From then on, the fashion chain continued to grow and trade privately until listing on the ASX in 2000, with a peak trading price of $5.00 and still dominating  Australian women’s fashion sector.

The mature women’s retailer displayed high standards in retailing, exceptional product quality, and an impressive reach of stores.

Fast forward 37 years and Noni B seems to find itself at another cross road (and there have been a few).

Today’s trading price of its shares is at 45c; takeover targets appear to be circling; and it has recorded a second consecutive yearly trading loss as it struggles to compete in the new landscape of retail, fuelled by seasonal variations; a global retail marketplace; and a move to fast, obsolescent fashion – driven by discounting and ignited by the search for the fountain of youth.

Among all this, a very different consumer has risen, one with a highly convoluted path to purchase, far more informed and more demanding than ever before and with so much more choice.

I believe that it is reasonable to assert that the Australian consumer has changed significantly in the period of 37 years, with so many aspects of their culture changing irrevocably including their roles in society, family, politically, singularly, and economically.

The children of the 70s have grown up to be the target market of Noni B and they are hugely different in style and fashion tastes to their parents.

I for one am not bemoaning Noni B. Far from it, it has my admiration, as retailers who have survived as intergenerational retailers in our country I believe will rise again in whatever format, be it similar or refined going forward.

On a patriotic note, we need our Australian retailers to flourish.

Failure to thrive sees this part of our retail sector go the way of our manufacturers and that can’t be a good thing.

Every country and city needs its unique flavour permeating through its retail culture.

The Darwinists among us might argue that this is all about adaption, and to some degree that may well be true. Others might suggest that innovation might have played a part.

I would suggest that the perfect storm is swirling around Noni B and we shall soon see where it lands.