Burley Sekem

In particular, if you love footy, you’ll be familiar with the brand name of half of this unusual company. For Burley Sekem is the amalgamation of two historic brands into a single entity; one, Sekem, is responsible for distributing licensed sports merchandise, holding official distribution and manufacturing licenses with the AFL, NRL, Socceroos and Wallabies among many others. The other, Burley, has been making balls for Aussie Rules since 1907 when it supplied one to the match in the Western Australia League between East Fremantle and West Perth.

Today, Burley still supplies the balls, while Sekem has realigned itself somewhat, remaining as a producer and supplier of sports kits but spending most of its time handling leading sports brands throughout the Australian market. These include not only the top domestic and regional names – Super Rugby, AFL, NRL, Cricket Australia and the Socceroos, but also important tournaments including the State of Origin series, the 2015 Cricket World Cup which will take place in Australia and the upcoming Rugby League World Cup in the UK which starts in November. The company also represents many European brands like Manchester United in Australia as a distributor.

Handling brands is the lion’s share of the business, as director Edward Cunningham explains from his Perth head office. “We are busy securing and managing licences for merchandise. There are two brands – Burley makes leather footballs and indoor cricket balls and related leather goods, while Sekem is what we call the ‘teamwear’ side of the business.”

The company has in recent years made a transition from being substantially a manufacturer of apparel to what today is more of a marketing operation using imported items (though still supplemented by a local manufacturing capability) in line with the general disappearance of garment manufacturing from high-cost countries to south and east Asian countries. As customers demanded lower prices, Burley Sekem was required to source more of its products offshore, but Ed says this was achieved in a gradual manner. “We slowly scaled back over the last ten years and were able to concentrate on our core business without disturbing the flow of business during the process. Today we are one of only a few companies that have the ability to produce locally for fast short runs while also offering a well-established import channel.”

It is largely a matter of choice that the licensed distribution aspect of the business is to the fore these days, a sector which is constantly expanding and shows no sign of flagging as generation after generation of eager kids pester parents for favourite shirts, scarves and beanies to display their allegiances. “We have very well established supply channels through retailers throughout Australia and a number of long term licences in place,” says Ed, “AFL being the largest, but we have an association with just about all of the codes.” Some properties are shared and others are exclusive; in the case of the replica shirt – or jumper as it is properly known in AFL circles – Burley Sekem is the only company that can provide all team replicas.

That is one of what Ed identifies as two key areas of business; the other is the ‘accessories’, the scarves and beanies. “This is an area into which we have put a lot of effort with some very satisfactory results. Across all codes that is an area we have chosen to specialise with great success in; we have picked up almost all of the sporting codes in Australia and also represent a number of overseas teams.” These include not only several English top soccer clubs but also the national teams of the likes of Brazil and France in the run-up to the next soccer World Cup.

Burley Sekem can manage the entire process, from design to sourcing to importing and distribution, dealing with the likes of Target stores to ensure the availability of the apparel in diverse retail outlets. The various streams remain, though, intertwined as Sekem continues to make shirts (jumpers) for amateur and junior clubs throughout the country as well as supplying the replicas of the famous professional clubs.

Marketing of the brands usually remains the responsibility of the company that owns them, and Ed acknowledges that, “the health of our business to a large extent depends on how successfully the various codes are managed and marketed. That has a direct impact on our business but thankfully I would say that for many years the major codes have been extremely well managed and we have grown with them.”

The distribution policy of Burley Sekem is usually set by the licensor, which will determine where the company can sell the products (retail chains, gift shops and so on). “Online retailing popped up recently as a new channel and tends to be handled on a horses-for-course basis. We are allowed to sell to some online providers but we don’t sell online ourselves. We have stuck to our wholesaling model.” Accordingly, the Burley Sekem website features catalogues of what the company offers to retailers rather than the products themselves. “However, many retailers have started to expand their home brand side of the business and, just like any other prudent business, we are watching and monitoring this area closely.”

Like any other company, Burley Sekem seeks growth. Although head office remains in Perth, the company has expanded its warehousing and distribution facility in Melbourne fourfold in line with the direction of the majority of the population and demand. “This has put us closer to the end user and has been very successful. By allocating more resources on the east coast we would expect to grow organically.” Also, with the strong relationship that exists with most licensors, “we would hope to try and win new properties for distribution.” One good current example is the V8 Supercars series; Burley Sekem won this six months ago and Ed says this is taking the company in a new direction. “We have never been involved in motorsport before and the V8 series is enjoying something of a resurgence.” A wider range of international sporting events is also on the cards.

He adds that despite its fairly small population, Australia is regarded as an important market by the licensors of major international brands. “Despite the smaller population compared to other markets, the level of interest and priority given to sport in Australian society makes this market bigger and more attractive than one might think. It’s quite disproportionate. Australia punches above its weight,” says Ed, who originally hailed from the UK but settled in Perth nearly 25 years ago.

Sport is of course only one of a number of cultural activities where merchandise in popular. So why is Burley Sekem not involved in others, such as music? Partly, says Ed, it is a question of management resources; the Perth headquarters has almost completed a reorganisation and “once that is finished I believe we will be in a better position to look at the wider market, although I still think there is a lot more potential left in sport.” Do licensors feel wary of a company that already handles so many brands, clubs and sports, in that the attention given to the brand might be diluted?

“I understand how someone might think that way but in fact the reverse is true,” Ed assures. Retail chains look to reduce, not add, suppliers and if they can deal with one supplier across a dozen lines, they are happy; that means a company such as Burley Sekem is more welcome at, say, Target where the busy buyer has fewer meetings to arrange. And that is good for the licensor who in effect is finding it easier to get a foot in the retailing door. It also makes it more logical for an incoming international brand to deal with the Perth-based local experts rather than a global distributor who would not be able to do the Australian market justice (Bayern Munich take note – currently the most valuable sporting brand on earth, it is not yet marketed in Oz).

Indeed, Burley has had great success in the development of football internationally, becoming the official ball of numerous international leagues and is a major player in the recent surge in women’s football, developing a smaller and lighter footy designed for their smaller feet and slighter frames. In 2012 the AFL issued Burley with a license to develop a range of AFL footballs for the first time since 1999. You could say the ball is firmly in their court!

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June 27, 2022, 12:06 PM AEST