Gold Coast markets to a global giant: How Simon and Tahnee Beard turned Culture Kings into a $600 million empire

Simon and Tahnee Beard’s international streetwear empire Culture Kings has grown with loyalty, cultural relevance and “effortlessness” to take the brand from Gold Coast markets to launching a Las Vegas megastore. 
Simon and Tahnee Beard. Image: Supplied

The husband and wife team sold the business to US company a.k.a Brands in 2021, selling half for $300 million in cash and taking the rest in shares for a total $600 million valuation. They stepped away from the daily business operations earlier this year, with the massive Culture Kings store opening in Las Vegas in 2022

The Vegas store features a recording studio and basketball court, among other things, leveraging strong celebrity connections with the likes of Christiano Ronaldo, Snoop Dogg and Justin Bieber visiting various Culture King stores. It’s a long way from the Beards’ humble market beginnings, where the pair initially sold slippers to the schoolies market in 2009, before later taking a $30,000 bet on acquiring the Culture Kings name and fitting out their first store with supplies collected from a weekend Bunnings shopping trip. The couple had no investors and never took a loan. 

So what’s driven this incredible success, turning close to $200 million in 2020? Simon Beard lists operational efficiency as a key growth enabler, particularly through the continued use of technology and automation. While their physical stores bring a unique and particular vibe to shoppers, so too does their social media and online store. 

Culture Kings scaled from its brick-and-mortar home to online sales through Shopify, which the brand continues to leverage to ensure it can meet global demand and use for tapping into the latest in AI and automation technologies. 

“Shopify allows us to make so much of the science stuff table stakes so we don’t have to do it, so we can focus on the art. Which is creating the value, which is the storytelling, which is the marketing, which is the product,” Beard says. 

“But we don’t get swamped in how to keep the thing going and progressing. And this is where Shopify just keeps on throwing on new features. And we can use that, that’ll make for an even better customer experience.”

A fast way to kill positive emotion is by selling “toxic products”, which Beard describes as being “like a cancer inside your store”. He said the first questions he’d ask Shopify’s new AI Assistant Sidekick feature is about toxic products. “When you sell a person a toxic product, that person has a much lower chance of shopping with you again,” he recently said on social media. “You need to remove it immediately.” 

Quality underpins great brands, and builds strong emotions, along with connections and loyalty. 

“Brand is that feeling and that level of trust people have in your product. Don’t mistake a business for a promotion. Narrowing that focus down to the value proposition. We’re in that space where you’ve got to be cool. How do you be culturally relevant, it’s the effortlessness of it.

“You need to make sure the product is good and everything lines up, for repeat purchases. I’ve spent some time diving into finding toxic products, the products people don’t buy again. I will refund people who’ve bought them.”

Nearly two-thirds (64%) of retailers plan to employ automation to improve customer experience and lower value tasks according to Shopify Plus, in The Australian Retail Report 2023. While Culture Kings was also well ahead of the rapid pace of AI in 2023, the Shopify Plus report found AI is increasingly being used in content creation, supporting retailers to focus on creativity and strategy over labour-intensive tasks. 

We can expect more automation in the future, with six in ten (64%) of retailers reporting to Shopify Plus they plan on using automation tech for employee experience and lower-value tasks in the future. Two-fifths (40%) of retailers plan to use AI and automation to support customer service inquiries over the coming year, with 32% considering such tech for logistics and delivery improvements. 

Beard says we can expect to see more. “Operational efficiency should be all about leveraging AI to automate things. Every day I see more and more opportunities to go faster and faster and get more integrated. The amount of opex [operational expenditure] that can be cut is pretty phenomenal,” he said during a recent Forbes keynote. 

The pandemic period gave eCommerce brands a spike, which Beard says created an “amazing tailwind” resulting from lower interest rates and the necessity for people to shop online. He says things can feel tough right now for online retailers, given inflation and the rising cost of living – but “this is the art of business, seeing it as it is, at this moment.” 

Beard knows the incredible value of customer loyalty, which has been key to Culture Kings success. Loyalty creates lifetime customers which ultimately means retention. Indeed, loyalty and high expectations around shipping are key to supporting customers who prefer to shop online, according to recent Shopify Plus research. 

“It’s so expensive to acquire a customer. Customer retention is the new customer acquisition, but you must ensure your model is built on keeping them for lifetime value. It’s far too expensive to think you can acquire them on the first go and prove profitable with some sort of fatty product.” 

Emotion is everything. As Beard recently shared on his Instagram: “The future of retail is – and always has been since the very first department store of Selfridges – theatre. That’s important. It’s how that evolves. We use technology to do it, but always remember that people are buying with emotion, and they are justifying with logic. Otherwise, no one would buy anything, we’d all just shop at Kmart.” 

Harnessing the best tech for automation is key to retailers being able to protect their margins, while still meeting the ever-increasing demands of customers – especially those customers that  brands hope to retain and build loyalty with. 

Check out more insights from Shopify Plus in The Australian Retail Report 2023, offering an industry deep dive on pathways to growth and shifting consumer behaviour.