CityLife COVER STORY
New Era For Australia’s #1 TWW Store
By Danae Jones
TOTALLY WORKWEAR has been more than just a workwear outlet for the past 28 years in the city of Cairns, it has become a part of the very fabric of the FNQ community, thanks to the Kingsbury family and their commitment to immersing themselves in the region they have lived and worked in for the better part of their lives.
On 25th October this year Chris and June Kingsbury officially hung up their Totally Workwear uniforms one last time after the successful sale of the business to another well established TWW franchisee.
The sale has ushered in a new era for the TWW Cairns store, which has punched well above its weight for many years. In fact, it has been positioned the #1 store in Australia in terms of revenue, even ahead of Sydney since 2014.
“Being #1 in Australia for sales was never something we shouted from the rooftops, we were more interested in just getting on with the job and servicing our customers to the best of our ability. And if that meant we ended up with the best sales in the country, well then so be it. It was never anything we set out to achieve,” Chris Kingsbury said.
“Whenever we came up with new campaigns or ideas to promote within the community, we went all in. I would say ‘go big or go home!’ We always put our money where our mouth was when it came to our marketing spend. We have been big marketers from the get go. Focusing on the creative aspects of the advertising campaigns, while employing experts in their fields to assist us in pulling it all together, was a passion project of mine. I got great joy out of the creative process. We had fun with our advertising and weren’t afraid to be occasionally cheeky with the locals about all manner of things. And the community loved it. We got lots of positive feedback about our campaigns.”
“I guess you can’t please everybody. It was a very funny ad, but a few people couldn’t see the humour in it. It only lasted a few days that campaign. But it certainly got people talking that’s for sure!” he laughs.
What started as a fledgling 100m2 ‘hole in the wall’ workwear franchise has grown to be one of the largest and most successful businesses of its kind.
Twenty eight years on, Totally Workwear Cairns is a major wholesale and retail outlet specialising in workwear, safety and corporate wear. The premises on Scott Street stretches over 1500m2, encompassing both a retail space and upstairs Business and Corporate Showroom, while in 2021 the Kingsbury family expanded the business once again with a dedicated Healthcare and Hospitality store at 123 Scott Street (diagonally opposite the main store). The expansion, while a big financial risk at the time, it was a calculated one, the surge in healthcare customers as a direct result of the pandemic meant the sector was booming, and the need to service multiple medical centres, allied health professionals and hospitals across the region was more important than ever before.
A decade of prior business ownership and management experience primed the pair for both the highs and lows that lay ahead, including the global financial crisis, which coincided with the major expansion of the premises.
The hospitality industry brought Chris and June from the Whitsundays to Cairns in 1986. Chris was Resort Manager of Green Island Resort, before coming ashore for the birth of their second child.
“We took a year off and were seriously considering going back south to family on the Gold Coast when we saw the Cairns Totally Workwear franchise for sale,” says Chris.
“We liked the ‘fledgling’ workwear concept immediately, and a month later completed bootcamp training with the franchisor in Brisbane. That was 1995 and what a wonderful ride it’s been since that time.”
During that time the Totally Workwear Cairns team grew to include 18 staff under a business manager, while IT assets grew from a single computer to a professionally managed network of terminals. Staffing levels as at today sit at 26 and continue to climb to meet demand.
Chris says the growth was essential to keep up with the fast-paced nature of today’s sales industry.
“Clients who once waited for a letter or fax now expect rapid electronic reply. But the goods they want still arrive here by road and rail,” he says.
“If we don’t have it, we can air bag it these days direct from the manufacturer. It’s often said, he who has stock is king. We back that up with a friendly, helpful service team and we believe it’s a winning formula.”
“In our early business life in Cairns, the defining ‘test’ for retailers was the Pilot’s Strike, which nearly crippled us and forced the closure of our antiques store. But we survived. We took the hits in our stride and rolled with the good times when they came along.”
He says standing out from the crowd is critical in business, especially when you’re in an industry that garners strong competition.
“Anyone can sell T-shirts let’s be honest. But not everyone can deliver at speed, with quality customer service and be willing to take customer feedback on board and pivot accordingly. We have always tried to be customer focused. If the locals told us they preferred one boot over another, then we’d go out of our way to stock more of those boots to meet the demand.”
He says “customers are at the centre of every business and if they are happy, the money will take care of itself.”
Not much will change under the new ownership of TWW Cairns. All existing staff will remain in the business, including Jenni Kingsbury (Chris and June’s daughter) and the business will be operated by another husband and wife duo.
The Scott Street business has become the house of brands to many workers in Far North Queensland, delivering everything from corporate clothing, business casuals, footwear, hospitality, medical, hospitality and industrial garments, as well as PPE equipment.
The second longest running franchise in the Totally Workwear group, the Cairns store was voted store of the year in 2015 at the group’s annual conference, seeing 20 per cent growth in that year alone and a steady upward sales growth since that time to leave it as the nation’s #1 since that time.
“It was a colossal sense of achievement,” says managing director, Chris Kingsbury.
“We are by far the highest performing store in our group, we even outperform Sydney, and our market acceptance has been very gratifying.”
Selling a wide range of workwear, corporate wear and safety gear by brands you know and trust the store services an area spanning Cardwell, the Gulf and Cape York with a staff of 26+.
“Like everybody in businesses, we pride ourselves on our service. We do boots to suits,” he says.
You’d be hard pressed to find a person that lives and works in the region that isn’t aware of the brand, having had a strong market presence and a generous community spirit since its inception the Kingsbury family say they are all about supporting those who support them – the local community.
Chris Kingsbury attributes TWW’s success to a consistent marketing presence that has achieved top-of-mind brand awareness and never allowing themselves to think small.
“What’s the old saying, when the going gets tough, the tough get going. There’s not a single year where we haven’t grown. We’ve kept our foot on the pedal post GFC and even during the global pandemic, we just kept pushing forward. Thanks to strong relationships, quality product lines and excellent customer service I think that’s what’s propelled us forward.
“Our job is to listen and perform. Everyone who works at TWW is taught in one department and then moved around the business to gain broader knowledge.
“We’re very proud of the fact it’s become a family business and we’ve been able to hand the reins on to another family to make it their own. It’s very rewarding to see a business you’ve built up supporting the next generation,” Chris says.
Over the years the business was one of the first platinum partners to be involved with the Cairns Chamber of Commerce and they’ve supported numerous local sporting groups in Cairns, ensuring they are highly visible with also the establishment of their very own sporting team across multiple sporting codes named TeamTWW.
“We’ve had cyclists that compete in all the major competitions including Tour of the Tropics, State Championships for BMX and Mountain Biking, we’ve had Ironmen and Ironwomen, rally car drivers in TARGA Great Barrier Reef and even Champion Ballroom Dancers as part of TeamTWW.
“Totally Workwear is evolving and growing at a very healthy rate. The key to us going forward is to continually self-improve our processes and the quality of the people who work within the business. But we can’t do any of it without the community’s support and we are forever grateful for their trust and loyalty in us,” said Chris.
TWW Cairns has been at the forefront of Guinness World Record attempts, Ladies & Tradie Nights, and even Gala Fashion Runways during the Kingsburys’ reign. The industry stalwarts have always been keen to put on a good time for the community and have some fun with their brand in the process.
“I even served on the National TWW Operators Board, representing the Queensland store owners for quite a number of years. It gave me great satisfaction to be involved in the grassroots evolution of the national franchise network.
“We have a lot to be grateful for as our children grew up and were educated under the TWW umbrella and it has allowed us to provide a great upbringing for them, while also teaching them about business.
“We are also very thankful to our Cairns community of friends and enduring clientele throughout FNQ. Without them, we would not have achieved anywhere near the success in business we have.”
As for their retirement plans, Chris and June say they are looking forward to setting sail on some international travel adventures and seeing more of the world while they continue to be healthy and able.