A History of Harrolds

Retail // September 2021 A History of Harrolds
A History of Harrolds, Australia's Luxury Department Store.

Harrolds has been an icon of Melbourne, and of 101 Collins for many years. 

The history of the store is a fascinating one, and we were fortunate enough to hear from Mary Poulakis, the owner of Harrolds, about how it came to be and the ways in which they continue to evolve for the benefit of their customers.

What is the history of Harrolds? How has it come to be what it is today? 

This year, Harrolds will mark 36 years of business and is proud to be an independent, family owned and operated retail business. From small beginnings in 1985 with an 80sqm boutique at The Rialto, we set out to be the shopping destination for men who wanted to be well dressed, not just for professional roles but for those who were looking for lifestyle dressing, as many of our clients were avid global travellers and captains of industry. 

With a handful of brands, a bowl of jelly beans on the counter, an espresso machine in the back and no computer system, we commenced our journey to becoming a multi-brand menswear fashion store. 

A second Melbourne store was added in 1994 at the top end of town at the newly completed blue chip address of 101 Collins Street. A computer system and better coffee machine soon followed suit. A third boutique was opened at Crown, Melbourne in 1997 to accommodate the influx of international gaming patrons and our journey into Sydney soon followed with a flagship store opening in 2000. 

Being in the fashion industry meant that you were often travelling abroad, and this allowed us to observe and learn from others in the industry, many of whom were generational businesses and brands that had customer service at their core. Over the years, these observations inspired us to be better and to offer something unique to our clients. 

So, in 2005 when the opportunity to occupy the then Makers Mark store at 101 Collins Street arose, we embraced the challenge and painstakingly oversaw even the smallest detail through an exhausting build of close to a year, of a multi-level, large footprint emporium.

We opened with fanfare and an incredibly glamorous soiree in the foyer of 101 Collins Street in the middle of the Spring Racing Carnival and set about engraining the Harrolds brand in the mind of many, not just in Melbourne, but nationally. 

Having weathered the GFC (albeit a little bruised), we embarked on our next venture in 2010 and relocated to the Westfield Sydney complex expanding that store to accommodate the first Tom Ford concept store in 2011.

This really was the beginning of a large expansion project for the business going on to introduce a dedicated luxury womenswear store in Westfield Sydney in 2015, a multi-level boutique at Pacific Fair in 2016 and some ten years after the fanfare of the Collins Street flagship, a dedicated womenswear floor and expansion into contemporary fashion and melding of cultures and demographics.

What sets Harrolds apart from other retailers? 

As a family owned business, having the ability to be agile and make quick decisions without answering to shareholders has allowed us to adapt, amplify and execute whatever the business needed at the time. Working with like-minded partners and brands is also what allows us to curate fashion collections that work for our customers – it really is a partnership or an extension of the Harrolds family. 

Many of our menswear brands are still family owned, generational businesses, like Lardini, Artioli and Stefano Ricci. But in the contemporary fashion space we are dealing with fashion conglomerates like LVMH and the Kering group - companies that have acquired brands over the past decade and turned them into mega fashion brands – Balenciaga, Dior and Burberry just to mention a few. 

Along with the extensive selection of product collections and brands that we carry, the one thing that separates Harrolds from our competitors is that fact that we are connected to our clients and know them personally. In retail, nothing makes a customer happier than a team member that remembers their name and is able to service them with care, passion and a genuine interest in them as a person. This has been the hallmark of the business for 36 years and so the challenge most recently has been to integrate this thinking into the newest store – Harrolds.com.au which fortuitously launched in February 2020 – a month before COVID 19- hit.

How has Harrolds evolved through COVID 19?

Staying connected with our customers and our staff during the past 18 months has been one of the biggest challenges the business has faced, and with the introduction of the e-commerce channel, we have embraced new technologies and platforms to allow us to do so – hopefully, we have done this well and when we are finally able to re-open our physical stores, we will have remained connected to the core. 

Today, some 36 years on, we are a globally recognised fashion retail brand and omni-channel business that is home to over 100 International fashion designer brands, with shipping all over the world and flagship stores in Sydney and Melbourne that employ 120 staff nationally. From small beginnings, we had large dreams.

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