Rebranding is never an easy feat. But how do you turn an RSL club into an all-encompassing destination? The transformation of West HQ from Rooty Hill RSL is nothing short of a marketing success story. B&T chatted with West HQ CEO Richard Errington to find out just how West HQ did it.
Can you tell us a bit about the transformation of West HQ in recent years?
Our transformation really started back in 2005. Back then we were Rooty Hill RSL. There was a perception that we were ‘your local club’ – our customer base was only within a 5km radius.
Gaming machines were the dominate revenue stream and we had an ageing customer profile and product.
By 2008, the industry began to feel the impact from the increase in taxation on gaming machines and the new non-smoking laws that were being introduced. It was evident the stigma of being a ‘club’ equalled gaming machines, which equalled your brand or your business.
It was at this time we decided in order to future proof the business we needed to make a strategic shift. We needed to:
- Become relevant to the wider region and all age groups, thus increasing our customer base
- Shift the focus away from gaming machines
- Build a destination, a city
- Integrate diverse yet interrelated assets/services/products into a cohesive venue
10 years on, we are now the leading landmark destination for entertainment, fitness, lifestyle, and accommodation in the Greater Western Sydney region, with 17 sub-brands across the business. The diversification of the business has meant the reliance on gaming has dissipated, and our strategic plan will continue to see us going down this path.
What was the motive behind the decision to rebrand from Rooty Hill RSL to West HQ?
The name Rooty Hill RSL was representative of a previous generation. We needed a name that was representative of the future, what the business had become, and what the business will be. We partnered with Clemenger, commissioning them to explore potential new business names. They did some amazing work and ultimately we landed with West HQ. Many destinations call themselves ‘entertainment quarters’, ‘dining quarters’, or ‘recreational quarters’. West HQ is dominant in all these areas; entertainment, fitness, lifestyle, and accommodation, so it felt right to call ourselves the headquarters for the region. The name acts as a navigational marker, and most importantly, it’s contemporary.
Did the rebrand bring with it any risks? If so, how did you navigate these challenges?
The Rooty Hill name has been around since 1964, it is a brand that is ingrained in generations of culture. It was a risk to change something with such a legacy. But where we are today as has proved that the risk was worth the reward. Our rebrand has allowed us to build the Sydney Coliseum Theatre – a 2,200 seat lyric theatre – and secure the talents of Keith Urban, Tina Arena, Amy Shark, John Butler, The Australian Ballet, Bangarra Dance Theatre, and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. This has also seen us partner with Ticketek to create the West HQ Box Office.
We’ve recently announced our partnership with NEC to provide a ‘best in class’ customer experience for our patrons from menus, wayfinding, interactive customer promotions, and free Wi-Fi, through to a frictionless facial recognition access system and market-leading solutions for CCTV security. This partnership will position West HQ as a venue for technical innovation.
We’ve also lured some of the country’s best chefs and restaurateurs to our destination, the likes of the godfather of Italian pizza in Australia, Stefano Manfredi, PizzAperta Manfredi; Sean Connolly (The Morrison Bar & Oyster Room) , Steak & Co. by Sean Connolly; and Steve Anastasiou (China Doll and China Lane), Chu Restaurant*.
Richard, this isn’t the first time you’ve led the helm of an Australian landmark. You were previously the CEO of the MCG and Stadium Australia for the Sydney Olympics. Who did you look to when creating a team to bring the West HQ brand to life?
We’ve utilised the skills of advertising agencies, as well as partnering with amazing professionals in their fields, such as Blue by Name for the interior design of our Eat Street, and the magnificent WiteKite, based in Neutral Bay, to develop the look at feel of the brand.
Internally, we’ve reached into the adland/media world, appointing Nigel McCallum as brand manager for West HQ. He has an impressive lineage in the media, marketing and advertising industries, and his design work is world renowned.
We’ve also recruited Ti-Ahna Firth as communications and partnership manager (previously Outdoor Media Association); Alex Wong as digital marketing manager (previously Universal McCann); and Benita Chantharath in customer marketing (previously Val Morgan).
In any business, you’re only as good as the people you surround yourself with. This is just a small example of some of the growing talent we have at West HQ.
Did the decision to rebrand involve consultation with customers/members?
In creating West HQ, we observed, listened to, and asked questions of the people who live, work, and are entertained here, to understand their needs and aspirations for the future of the space and the region. As a business, we have become more sophisticated and analytical with our data sets. We know how customers move around the estate; what they do, when they are here, and where they do and don’t spend. The best destinations are contemporary reflections of their customers, and the most successful ones achieve this by creating places and spaces that inspire and attract new customers, whilst satisfying long term and loyal patrons.
Placemaking is all about listening to and observing customer behaviour. With this knowledge, we believe we have created an iconic destination that caters to every aspect of fitness and health, dining and hospitality, nightlife, entertainment, and accommodation.
How have you shaped the brand to represent Greater Western Sydney?
The name for starters! West HQ was designed with people in mind; we have focused on the social and cultural importance of building a lively regional epicentre around inviting public spaces. We encourage our customers to take ownership of their neighbourhood, be proud and have a sense of belonging.
But this is just one aspect. By creating the destination, we’ve also created an abundance of employment opportunities for people in the Greater Western Sydney region. Currently, across our four business genres we employ 650 staff, with that number set to increase to 700 by the end of the year.
How has your brand strategy had to adapt in the past few years? How important is it to take an agile approach to brand strategy?
Our vision has always remained the same, to be Sydney’s leading landmark destination in the Greater Western Sydney region.
We are seeing, and will continue to see, massive development in the GWS region. Population is currently at 2.28 million. By the year 2031, 3.0 million Australians will call Western Sydney call home. West HQ, coupled with Badgerys Creek (Nancy Bird Walton Airport), Sydney Zoo, and other development in the area puts us in a very enviable space for new opportunity and growth. We will need to be agile to ensure we maximise these opportunities, and that West HQ continues to be leaders in this area. But we also need to ensure that we don’t lose sight of our customer. They are the heart of everything we do.
*Chu Restaurant will be opening late November 2019