Retail Big Conversation: Growing domestic talent

With Australian retailers typically over-relying on overseas talent, King Living’s CEO Anna Carrabs talks to Six Degrees Executive’s Retail Manager Chris Barr about how top talent can be home-grown.

“The thing that gives me the greatest pleasure”, says Anna Carrabs, “is when we’re able to build careers and futures for our staff”.

In her tenure so far as King Living CEO, Anna has not yet had to cast the net overseas for retail talent, but can see a time when it may have to happen. The problem, she says, has been created by the retail sector itself. Developing home-grown talent isn’t something Aussie retailers are known for, and an over-reliance on overseas talent means there simply isn’t enough home-grown talent in the marketplace to meet the sector’s needs. “Why do retailers feel they need to look overseas?” she asks. “Because we’re not growing these people domestically – they’re not in the marketplace.”

Anna, what do you think is the best approach for attracting a new generation of talent to a long-term career in retail?

You need to show young people where a career in retail could lead. Show them the opportunities and the skill-sets they’ll develop such as leadership, managing others, growing the careers of others, knowing what the customer needs to have a wonderful experience, administration, rostering… there are so many skills to learn that the average role in retail can be like running your own mini-business.

If people entering the workforce want something dynamic and to determine where their career path is going to go without having it determined for them; if they want to be part of the evolution of the customer experience, retail is the destination for them.

How do you go about developing home-grown talent?

It’s about opportunity. We advertise all roles internally; for example, we’ve recently advertised a role in the visual merchandising team and had five applications from internal candidates. The person who will win the role is one of our sales consultants from the shop floor of a Sydney store. Another sales consultant from a showroom is now running our customer service team.

We’ve had a team member with a finance degree who was originally working in the warehouse – today, he’s working with our retail team, managing all of our floor stock. Another employee worked in the warehouse for five years before becoming the head of IT for King Living. A former receptionist is now head of ANZ retail.

We always find a role for good people – I absolutely stand by that. Broadcasting the opportunities and career stories such as these will attract great talent to the profession because they’ll be able to see there are so many opportunities for growth.

How do you align the culture between head office and showrooms?

When I started the CEO role, I spent my first couple of weeks working on the shop floor. That was intriguing – it’s not as easy as it looks! You see people doing it very seamlessly, but it’s a steep learning curve with a lot of things to think about.

We now have a program at King Living where all employees in our head office have to spend time working in a showroom, and must experience going on a delivery truck to deliver furniture to our customers. That’s pretty exciting.

When I started here, there was an “us versus them” (head office versus stores) perception. I knew we had to change that. Having people from head office spend time in stores demonstrates that we’re working as a team and there is subsequently much less of a blame game.

On the flip side, employees from the showrooms come into the office to help out in customer service, where they realise that customer service isn’t easy, either. I think an appreciation of everyone’s role is key for working together.

My one takeaway from working in the showroom? It’s absolutely exhausting being “on” all the time. I could see that the best salespeople are switched on all the time. Luckily I’m a people person; but if you’re not, retail isn’t the profession for you.

What attributes do you look out for in top talent?

You have to want to connect with people, whether it’s the customer or a colleague.

You must be willing to work as part of a team.

You should have the ability to develop people – and not to be so protective of your own role that you refuse to help grow others.

What do you think Australian retail will look like in five years’ time?

There’s going to be a real shake-up. For retailers who will continue to exist, they’ll have to remain relevant. They’ll have to be ahead of the game, ahead of competitors and be very focused on the customer experience. At the end of the day, that’s what drives this whole industry.  


Talk to Chris Barr and the Six Degrees Executive Retail team about home-grown talent in the Retail sector.