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Retail Big Conversation: Thriving in a tough market

by Chris Barr

Retail Big Conversation | Thriving in a tough market

“It’s a tough period, but you know what? The market is what it is.” Barbeques Galore CEO Luke Naish gives his top tips on surviving – and thriving – in a challenging retail environment.

Retail is tough. With changing customer expectations and galloping growth in e-commerce, it’s only going to get tougher. Barbeques Galore CEO, Luke Naish, gives some timely advice on how to respond to these challenges and develop a resilient mindset. 

Luke, what challenges are retailers currently facing? 

Australian shoppers are more circumspect with where they spend their money. They know where they can find the best products and the best price. They want to feel a connection to the brand; it's got to identify with them and what they believe in. 

What does that mean for retailers? We can assume less foot traffic coming through stores and greater scrutiny around buying decisions. We've got to expect that customers will hold brands to a higher standard of account. Customer expectations around service are going to be higher – that means retailers need to be authentic, genuine, credible and really go the last mile to deliver. 

The net sum of all those things is retailers are on notice. We need to realise customer preferences are changing around us. Retailers need to respond by investing in the systems and processes but also in the capability in talent to drive these outcomes. 

2019 is going to be a challenging year and with a federal election coming up, it's going to be rocky. The market conditions are a little bit different this year to last. I don't think there's a need to fret about it but we can acknowledge it and just make sure we are mentally prepared for it and reaffirm guidance on what we need to do.

How do you keep a team motivated in a tough market? 

It’s a tough period, but you know what? The market is what it is. We can't change it and there's no point complaining. You can't control house prices or the stock market – what you can control is your business and keeping your team focused on what's really important by injecting confidence and optimism. That's an area a lot of retailers lose sight of very quickly, particularly when there's a downturn in sales or the message in the market is less than positive. 

Acknowledge when there are headwinds, but you've got to get the message back to your team that things are okay. When you don't hit a sales number, acknowledge it and your emotional state. Knowing what we know now, does it change our strategy? Does it change what's important? Does it change how we're going to implement or execute plans? Yes or no? Be clear around what's important and what’s needed. If you can answer those questions and bring to life how you will move forward with your team, you will be able to focus on what's most important in retail – the customer.

Looking into your crystal ball, what will the retail industry look like in five years’ time? 

It will be determined by our customers. Customers will set the expectation of what good looks like. It will be about the full brand experience; the connection to the brand, the products and the service. Retailers who resonate with customers on values and social responsibility are going to succeed. 

It's all about engagement with the customer and innovation of the brand – service and product will triumph. It's going to be challenging and it's only going to intensify. The speed of change will be rapid but it will also present a lot of exciting opportunities. Retailers need to stay focused and sharp. 

I love the fact that retail is alive. It's organic. There is an element of irrationality that you can never fully control. It keeps calling you back again and again. It’s not always easy; but if it was, you would easily become bored. It is tough and you've got to stay fresh and vibrant. You've got to make tough decisions and work long hours. 

In many ways, retail is a living metaphor for life. Whatever you put in, you will get back and more. You will be challenged, you will be tested – you've got to be prepared for that. People are counting on you to be your best every day; it's a great responsibility and privilege. 


Speak to Chris Barr at Six Degrees Executive to learn more about attracting and retaining top talent in retail.