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What You Don’t Know About Canadian Business Success: Anita Canada x HSBC

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“You have to be clear, committed to your beliefs and faithful to your customers,” says Mark Caskenette, Managing Director, Anita Canada. “By helping them adapt to change, our businesses will thrive together.”

Anita Dr. Helbig GmbH is a German women’s swimwear & lingerie company founded in 1886. Following the internationalization of the company under CEO Georg Weber-Unger's leadership, Anita acquired its Canadian distributor in 2013, forming the Anita Canada subsidiary.

Since Mark Caskenette joined as managing director in 2014, Anita Canada has seen more than 100 percent revenue growth and a complete realignment of the organization, from staff to brand position. This included the creation of a mobile pop-up store that in 2016 made two successful cross-country tours with Anita Canada's retail partners, which today exceeds 400 locations.

“While we design products for every moment in a woman’s life—from pregnancy, nursing and recovery bras to plus-sized and mastectomy swimwear—we’re also designing for a whole person,” says Caskenette. “I’m very proud of our products’ technical aspects and how we continue to focus on improving women’s lives through function and style.”

Building an ‘echo system’

Like many Canadian apparel companies, in COVID-19's early days, Anita Canada navigated uncertainty around how the virus interacts with fabric and whether product needed to be quarantined. The company also adapted to different provincial health guidelines impacting retail partners across Canada.

Through the development of its own distribution systems and the unique value proposition of its product, Anita Canada was able to demonstrate remarkable resilience during the pandemic. And because the company had a medical products division, it was considered an essential service business that could stay open during lockdowns

“During the pandemic, we were fortunate to benefit from government programs to help businesses in the first lockdown, but we also created an ‘echo system’ within the company to help each other (our retail partners) find a path forward,” says Caskenette.

Having four production facilities in Europe and Asia that split production 50-50 meant Anita doesn’t rely on finished goods purchases, and it was able to source its own raw materials and convert them into finished goods sought out by retailers and consumers.

Anita Canada was also able to bypass the supply chain challenges and port delays experienced by many Canadian apparel companies during the pandemic by leveraging its internal transportation service, distributing mainly through Europe, and avoiding backlogs in China.

The outcome of Anita Canada’s pandemic experience was growth: While 2020 saw a significant decline in revenue, it rebounded beyond the company’s best-year (2019) figures with 24 percent growth in 2021 compared to 2019

Help yourself by helping your customer

A key factor in Anita Canada’s success amid the pandemic was its pivot from bricks-and-mortar retail model to assisting its retailers with online shopping, digital engagement, training & risk mitigation

“In the beginning, Anita Canada retailers didn’t have a huge online footprint—we saw a huge decline as volume went down as people stayed at home, and we were faced with the considerable challenge of getting product to consumers on behalf of our retailers without creating excess delays,” says Caskenette. “We started strategically developing approaches, like our omni-channel concept and educating our retailers on how to shift their business online.”

After speaking with Anita Canada’s retailers about the challenges they were experiencing during the pandemic, Caskenette and his team hosted a series of webinars and produced content aimed at educating them on everything from legal issues and government support programs to e-commerce. By partnering with organizations like Shopify, Thinkific and BDO, Anita Canada was able to bring industry expertise to their retailers' doorstep and answer their most pressing questions.

The company also offered their clients new supportive benefits, including extending terms, offering free freight, and creating a dropshipping program tailored to retailers.

“Everything we do needs to add value to our retailers and their customers,” says Caskenette. “The more empowered they are with tools and knowledge, the better their business will thrive. We made tangible changes to Anita Canada's business that would help our retailers drive revenue and be resilient through the pandemic.”

Partnering with a bank that stands apart

Caskenette says he has been an HSBC customer for more than 25 years. When he joined Anita Canada, moving the subsidiary’s business to HSBC was his first priority.

As the company weathered the pandemic, it was able to accelerate its pivot to online shopping through several HSBC digital engagement tools:

  • Through HSBC’s Foreign Exchange services, Caskenette streamlined transactions in Canadian dollars with a head office in Brannenburg, Germany operating in euros while also using U.S. dollars as it assumes American distribution, while securing the highest percentage of profit.
  • HSBC’s online platform added an extra layer of security and efficiency for Anita Canada’s online banking transactions with their German counterparts.
  • With Mobile Cheque Deposit, a new HSBC tool made available at the start of the pandemic—when customers needed it most—Anita Canada can process cheques digitally to meet the wider consumer shift to touchless banking.

“HSBC has a global footprint,” says Caskenette. “I’ve had discussions with Anita’s other global subsidiaries about moving them to our bank, because my experience is that it’s been effortless—I can do all my banking securely and easily.”

Focus on the customer

Caskenette’s experience leading Anita Canada through the pandemic to a place where it will continue to succeed taught him to stay focused on helping the company’s customers thrive.

While it may have been easier to jump aboard the direct-to-consumer (DTC) bandwagon, Caskenette’s belief in strengthing the relationship with retailers through the pandemic, and building on loyalty to Anita, was key to setting the company apart from the competition.

“You have to be clear, committed to your beliefs and faithful to your customers,” says Caskenette. “By helping them adapt to change, our businesses will thrive together.”

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