Billabong boss vows to make surfwear chain cool again

Billabong International chief executive Neil Fiske has vowed to make the surfwear brand "cool" again, setting out a seven-point plan to turn around the ailing retailer, which lost $860 million last year.

Billabong International chief executive Neil Fiske has vowed to make the surfwear brand "cool" again, setting out a seven-point plan to turn around the ailing retailer, which lost $860 million last year.

Mr Fiske hopes to apply some of the lessons he learned as chief executive of US retailer Eddie Bauer, an outdoor clothing chain, and while working alongside legendary retailer Lex Wexner on the turnaround at lingerie chain Victoria's Secret and Limited Brands.

Billabong's first priority was to strengthen its brand management by focusing on its top three global brands - Billabong, Element and RVCA - working out which of its emerging brands had the most growth potential, and allocating resources accordingly.

"At Limited, every brand has a very detailed brand book. When I got to this company the first thing I did was ask to see the brand book for Billabong and I got a blank look," Mr Fiske told journalists after Billabong's annual meeting on Tuesday.

"It's just a good example of how we lost focus on the brands.

"One of the things that's neat about brands with heritage as deep and as rich as Billabong is they always have comeback potential. We can take a heritage brand, modernise it and make it relevant again ... I'm convinced it will become cool again."

Billabong also needed to strengthen its merchandise planning, culling excessive styles and products by as much as 30 per cent and working with its design team to create "fewer, bigger, better styles" that sold faster, delivered better margins and drove topline sales growth.

Mr Fiske was appointed chief executive in September after Billabong reached agreement with US hedge funds Oaktree Capital and Centerbridge Partners for a $385 million debt and equity financing deal. He wants to retain Billabong's retail operations, but focus on its "mono-brand" retail stores - such as Billabong and Tigerlily - rather than multibrand stores such as Surf Dive 'n' Ski and West 49, which is for sale.

The company plans to cut costs to fund increased investment in marketing campaigns, especially in digital marketing customer relationship management and social media. It is also planning further supply chain rationalisation, sourcing from fewer suppliers to get better deals and gradually diversifying out of China.

After a management exodus from the company over the past six months, Mr Fiske is also scouting for several senior roles..

Billabong shareholders thwarted attempts by dissident shareholder Coastal Capital to throw chairman Ian Pollard and two non-executive directors off the board and voted against the election of Coastal's two representatives, Todd Plutsky and Vlad Artamonov.

Matt Wilson of Oaktree and Jason Mozingo of Centerbridge were elected to the board, paving the way for their $385 million debt and equity deal to proceed.

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