Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Industries of Yester-year

As I watch the latest updates about the precautions the government is taking for corona virus and the safety of our residents, and listen as each day businesses are forced to shut with these new regulations being implemented, I find myself thinking of past industries and businesses that are gone but not forgotten.

My grandparents were both in industries that are largely forgotten in today’s world. These industries still exist, but in a much smaller or different footprint. 

My grandfather was a wool classer. This was between the wars and the job he resumed after returning from the 2nd world war. It was the days when Australia was “riding on the sheep’s back” and was taking its early steps into what it is today. He worked in some of the Brisbane wool stores located in Teneriffe and where in my early 20’s my first design office was located. Back in those days the timber floors were soaked with the lanolin oil as the classers threw the large fleeces and examined them with expert eye to determine their market worth. Wool classers still exist today but not in the numbers of my grandfather’s era.

After beginning her career as a dressmaker to a high-class couture workshop in Brisbane, my grandmother trained further to become a milliner. She learnt her trade alongside many other women to service the fashion industry where women always needed a hat to meet the formal dress codes of the day. The wealthier women had multiple hats to suit more of life’s social appointments. As technology in looms and knitting machines grew and dress codes became more casual, handmade hats became a luxury bespoke item with a price tag to match.

Even as recently as my mother’s own high school years the girls not wishing to pursue a university degree were taught typing because women predominantly went into nursing or secretarial jobs. Very few people now lack the ability to type their own documents, whether it’s a 2-finger fast stabbing effort or the proper touch typing. The traditional secretary who would type everything for their boss is long gone.

In the past 18 mths or so I’ve watched with fascination as a particular business was virtually wiped out in front of my eyes. You may have also noticed that shopper dockets are no longer used by the major national grocery outlets. I used to love checking my shopper dockets. There were a couple of local restaurants and pubs who advertised frequently, and they had great deals with sometimes a 2 for one meal. Great for those nights when you felt like some pub grub, but also felt a bit guilty as you’d been out for several meals already that week. A half price meal deal on a shopper docket could clinch the decision for you.

I thought it was interesting and sad that almost overnight their 2 biggest customers stopped purchasing from shopper docket and the business almost varnished. I don’t know the reason for this, and my investigations have not gleamed much insight for me.
As I listen to the latest round of business closures and restrictions due to corona, I keep thinking back to shopper dockets and how 1 or 2 decisions can have a huge impact for a business.

Monday, March 9, 2020

Is Bigger Better?

If you were a retailer what would “big” mean to you? Would it mean that you are able to move into a store that is twice as big as your current one, because business was going well? Would it mean that that your name and reputation are known nationwide? Or would it mean what a lot of people immediately think of, that you have opened multiple stores because your business is so successful?

For most people when we hear about a “big” retailer, we immediately think of the later. But as we often see bigger is not always bigger. With the amount of retailers that have closed in recent times, downsized or gone into administration, it really is a case of the bigger they are the harder they fall.

 If we look back at the past couple of years and the brands that have closed there seems to be a pattern that these were all stores that had undergone large expansions over the years. In their quest to grow and find more customers it seemed that they lost things along the way. Some had too many similar retailers to compete with, some of them opened too close to their existing stores. For others economic factors took their toll. While some retailers did not understand the cultural differences of the new markets they were expanding into.

I have watched some interesting and inspirational interviews with smaller one-off retailers who have created wonderful successful stores. By being a smaller independent store they have learnt the power of personal individual service, they know where their customers are coming from, if they are responding to advertising promotions and their ages and the mix of demographics. This is because the owners and management are speaking with them and asking questions to help tailor the right product mix.

Reed Gift Fairs have an interesting YouTube series with their ambassador Tara Dennis visiting gift and homewares retailers and discussing their stores. I love looking at how they display their stock, hearing how they select it and about their customers and seeing what they’ve grown their businesses into with a few years of hard work. 

Very often the fact that they are a one-off store creates that destination factor. If it’s a good store, people don’t mind travelling- within reason. The journey becomes part of the hunter/ gatherer process.

However, the flip side in the quest to grow and conquer is the risk of loss of personal service standards, decrease in product knowledge with the staff, workers for whom it’s “just a job”, stock flow management issues and increased overheads to name a few negatives. Very often businesses are gauged in monetary value but take away key people or compromise your standards and ethics and suddenly a business can become worthless.

Success and achievement are common aspirations of human nature. For some the desire to grow bigger is well worth the work, for other businesses remaining as a one-off destination may be the solution. Dreaming with stars in your eyes is wonderful. Less exciting can be when you need to face reality and ask yourself “what is the cost and what could be lost in the quest to grow?”