• Debunking 10 of the biggest retail myths

    4 July, 2013 Company

    As we look ahead to a new financial year, it’s important to shed some light on the retail myths that have been thrown about for the last 12 months and bring to the surface some retailing realities.

    Myth 1 – Shopfront retail is dying

    Shopfront retail is not dying; you just have to be innovative and willing to change your methods to catch the eye of shoppers that have an abundance of choice.

    We recently launched Australia’s premier appliance showroom, which includes world first displays.

    The Winning Appliances Flagship Redfern Showroom offers a unique lifestyle experience for appliance shopping and we opened this showroom following our biggest year on record, with over 20% year-on-year growth.

    Myth 2 – People won’t buy “that” online/in a store

    These sorts of stereotypes no longer apply. People, and even my own father at the time, told me nobody would buy appliances online. Innovation leads to growth.

    Myth 3 – Product is more important than delivery

    The delivery of a product is just as important as the product that you sell. The timing, communication and professionalism of your delivery team – such as removing any packaging – is crucial to repeat business.

    Myth 4 – Pick offline or online and stick to it

    It’s a new ball game. You can’t distinguish between offline and online retail anymore; it’s just retail.

    Myth 5 – The lowest price will get you the sale

    Australian shoppers are extremely savvy, so they won’t just settle for a low price offer. An end-to-end customer experience that includes convenience and prompt delivery will be required to impress customers.

    Myth 6 – Play the game with your competitors

    Stick to your own business plan and don’t be influenced by your competitors. It doesn’t pay to have the same offering; consumers are always looking for a unique experience.

    Myth 7 – You need mass advertising to get noticed

    You don’t need to blanket advertise to get noticed, in fact this can infuriate potential customers. Use your money wisely to invest in advertising campaigns that ensure shoppers not only remember your name, but also the reason why they should shop with you.

    Myth 8 – You need to be loudest to be heard

    You don’t need to have the loudest voice within your industry to be noticed; you just need to have the most sensible things to say.

    Myth 9 – The primary purpose of customer support is to assist people purchasing a product

    It’s always easier to buy something than return it. Your customer support team should also be solutions focused; a business is defined by how they handle something when it goes wrong.

    Myth 10 – Get it right for the next customer you serve

    You need to impress EVERY customer that walks into your store or lands on your website. Fix issues and solve problems immediately; word travels fast, so you can’t afford to lose a customer.

  • Recipes gone wild: finding Australia’s Best Home Chef

    9 June, 2013 Company

    In June this year, we will host a live cooking competition to crown Australia’s Best Home Chef, the result of our newest brand and website.

    BestHomeChef.com.au was launched quietly in October last year, with the aim of creating a consumer-led online hang out to swap recipes, cooking tips and culinary ideas. Five appliance brands partnered the website, with brand mentors Mark Best, Adam D’Sylva, Pete Evans, Massimo Mele, Tony Fishbeck and Luca Ciano representing each cooking partner and commenting on recipes, offering cooking advice and rating people’s recipes.

    At the time of launch, we didn’t know whether Best Home Chef was going to produce 1580 different recipes for Spaghetti Bolognese or offer advice on cooking foie gras – but fast forward eight months and the standard of recipes – and accompanying photographs – is astounding. From Rabbit in Red Wine to Chinese Braised Pork Belly, the quality of recipes uploaded from the Best Home Chef community has far exceeded our expectations.

    Best Home Chef now has more than 4000 users and 1300 consumer-led recipes uploaded at the time of writing. Each new recipe uploaded is quickly devoured by the community, with chefs commenting on new recipes. Our Facebook page has a community of over 8,400, who discuss the recipes and give the home chefs praise on their innovations.

    And it’s only just starting out.

    Web traffic and recipe uploads peak each weekend, with home chefs thinking about recipes to cook throughout the week and then spending time photographing and uploading unique creations when they have a bit more time.

    Although the recipe website genre is highly competitive, external research we conducted with Galaxy found 51% of Australian families cooked at home almost every day; with people cooking as a form of both creativity and relaxation.

    Just glancing at social media feeds it’s hard to ignore the ubiquitous food photo and anecdotally, I found conversations about what people did on the weekend centered around food. Australians love food, and what seemed to be missing from the highly-concentrated recipe landscape (mainly driven by food editors and celebrity chefs), was an outlet for home chefs to swap – and test – their personal recipes and creations at a grassroots level.

    The kitchen has become the heart of the Australian home. It is now much more than a mere place for cooking – it has become a central hang-out, an entertainment destination and conversation starter. Best Home Chef was a brand we started on a whim, but it has proven to be just the recipe Australian home chefs have been looking for.  We’re really excited to crown the inaugural Australia’s Best Home Chef in the next few weeks at our brand new Winning Appliances Redfern Showroom, and to continue to provide a platform for cooks to share what is a much-loved pastime.

  • Building your brand one customer at a time

    15 May, 2013 Company

    “Advertising is the tax you pay for being unremarkable,” said Geek Squad Founder Robert Stephens. This is a true and significant statement that really sets apart competitors in Australia’s highly crowded retail market.

    Obviously, advertising is a key and necessary ingredient in all businesses marketing strategies, including Winning Group’s. However, it shouldn’t be relied upon as the main reason why people shop with you. People should remember you because of your reputation and not because of your mass advertising.

    When you are an unknown entity, brand building is your main focus and advertising is essential and will help you attract customers for the first time, but it won’t help you to keep getting them back.

    If you are a small to mid-sized business there’s no way that you can match the advertising budgets of the larger companies, but if you offer efficient and exceptional customer service you can challenge the big hitters and grow your business.

    Trust that’s earned, followed by word-of-mouth is what will take your business to a new level. This is something I can speak from experience on, as when I started Appliances Online seven years ago, we were completely unknown and didn’t have the big ad spend of our larger competitors.

    My strategy to grow the business was simple: if we can impress every customer with exceptional customer service then people will tell their friends and family. And we still follow that principle today.

    Here are five brand building tips if you are about to start your own business and don’t have a big budget to spend on advertising:

    1. Be authentic in developing your brand – be involved in the design of your logo and other company-facing materials. This will ensure that you stay true to your business goal and offering, which is something that your competitors can’t copy.

    2. Create multiple channels for communications – create platforms for potential customers to engage with you and to offer you feedback. Do not rely on advertising alone, as it is one-way communication.

    3. Build relationships – learn from customer feedback and if you change your business accordingly, you will gain the trust of people and repeat business through word-of-mouth advertising.

    4. Keep your messages simple – if you have money to invest in advertising, make sure your messages are simple and demonstrate why you are different to your competitors. Australian’s are savvy shoppers and they will always look for a more enjoyable and reliable shopping experience, so they will try other options.

    5. Make sure your advertising is measurable and effective. If you are advertising online, you can gauge success by viewing users who click through to your site and track those users who transacted. If you are advertising offline, make sure your customer service team or salespeople ask people where they heard about you or have unique offers attached to a 1300 number, for instance.

  • Changing the rules in an overcrowded retail market

    11 April, 2013 Company

    It’s tough to compete in the retail industry not just because consumers are watching every dollar they spend, but it’s also a heavily crowded market, particularly in Australia.

    For any start-ups or newly established retail businesses, it might seem like you are faced with an uphill struggle against the industry’s heavy-hitters. But the reality is if you can’t win the game you’re playing or you feel disadvantaged just change the rules – and keep changing them.

    If you take the fashion industry, for example, and look at the true leaders, you can’t go past the world’s largest online shoe store, Zappos. Generally speaking, delivery and return costs are what could put online retailers out of business. Zappos broke the rules and ingeniously turned delivery and return costs into its unique selling point and customers followed.

    Zappos managed to encourage and make people feel confident to shop online by removing the risks. Free returns separated it from the pack and many other online retailers are following suit.

    Here in Australia, Styletread, which based its business on the Zappos customer service model, has become the nation’s largest online shoe retailer.

    Styletread, importantly, offers free returns. Like any new retailer or business, it’s difficult to secure the leading brands to represent and sell, so Styletread used this to its advantage and demonstrated how cool the unknown and boutique brands were to consumers. They were able to make the “undiscovered” brand just as popular as the leading brands.

    The Australian whitegoods and appliances market is increasingly overcrowded. At the Winning Group, we have based our businesses on a customer service model. Unlike our competitors, our Winning Appliances showroom staff don’t work on commissions, which means that customers can be assured that they will receive unbiased and trusted advise. Thus trust factor is something you cannot replicate, it is earned.

    We broke the rules, opting to not follow the commission model, as we simply didn’t believe that its part of offering the best shopping experience possible.

    We also offer our suppliers a unique experience where we intend to add value to their brands. We showcase their brands through social media, copy, educational videos and buying guides on Appliances Online, which gives customers confidence about buying a large value item online. Within the Winning Appliances showrooms we also offer each brand the best displays possible. We go to great lengths to show off each brand within our nine showrooms.

    How to change the rules and stand out in an overcrowded market:

    1. Analyse your competitors and similar industries
    2. What didn’t your competitors do well? Fix it?
    3. What did they do well? Do it better or change it!
    4. Develop your unique offering
    5. Test the business model
    6. Continue to innovate – you’ve only got so long on the top

  • A bank ahead of the rest: Why Virgin should take on the big banks

    27 March, 2013 Company

    Banking is the biggest business opportunity. This statement seems a little far-reaching considering the big fours’ stranglehold on the Australian market but like all service industries, if your competitor listens to your customers and acts on it more than you do, you could be facing a mass exodus.

    Who could take on the current big banks? From my perspective, there is one strong candidate and that’s Virgin.

    They already have a financial presence in Virgin Money which offers home loans, insurance and savings accounts, but they have the ability to challenge the big four’s traditional banking model. They could carve up the everyday banking market by taking their successful online offering and going offline by opening up a local branch network and offering cash accounts.

    Virgin’s opportunity is not just local, it is also global. Like Australia, most global markets have tired models and dominant players. Virgin could challenge and supersede HSBC to become the world’s best global bank.

    So how could Virgin win the bank battle? Apart from having the financial ability to go up against the big players, they basically offer the best customer service and are innovative – two things that define the success of any business.

    The best example of how Virgin does it better is through the Virgin airline network. Whether you are travelling with them domestically or internationally, you will notice that their customer service is second-to-none, the interiors of their planes are innovative and their marketing is relevant to customers’ needs and lifestyles.

    They know their customers, they offer a better service and they are competitive. They live and breathe their motto: “We’re united by our passion for giving our customers a better deal, serviced by real people.”

    Every business within the Virgin family seems to offer simple, thoughtful and reliable services – something which you can’t say about any of the current big banks.

    In the retail industry, if you don’t take your customer into account at every step of the process your business model won’t succeed. For all of the Winning Group businesses, exceptional customer service is the foundation. If we get it wrong, we change it. If we make a mistake and upset a customer, we fix the problem in a timely manner. We are continually innovating to ensure that we deliver the best shopping experience possible.

    Obviously banks have to adhere to certain laws and are constrained in some areas; however, the lack of agility to change based on customer feedback or even to refresh the service offering is where the current banks let customers down.

    With a high dollar and a strong economy Australia is in a healthy economic position in comparison to the rest of the world. This is the time for Australian businesses to shine and you would think that the banks would be pulling out all stops to support the growth of Australian businesses within our own country and to expand internationally. Banks need to provide customer service that matches the advancements of Australian businesses and the community’s lives – standard traditional service doesn’t crack it anymore.

    I recently wrote about the difference between Qantas and Virgin and that whilst Qantas had my heart, Virgin was the smarter option. Virgin’s opportunity to dominate the market stemmed from Qantas’ inability to change a once successful business model when they were on top.

    The biggest opportunity for a new player is to learn from an older business, but bring a fresh angle to it. Qantas didn’t continue to raise the bar on their customer service – they continued offering the same level of service, which isn’t relevant to today’s flyers.

    Even though our economy is strong the cost of living is skyrocketing, so consumers will break from tradition to something that delivers a better experience and price. Australians would do the same with the banks if they had a Virgin everyday bank as a choice.

  • Employee intentions – a true indicator of business success

    12 March, 2013 Company

    People say you can judge a business by the way employees’ work when a boss or a manager is away. How management respect staff will impact how employees act and their level of respect for management. To gain respect employees and management must be engaged in a company’s values.

    The success of any service based business, whether that’s in retail, banking or in real estate, depends on the attitude and passion of employees. Employees can be productive but have a “just do enough to get the job done” attitude. It’s noticeable when someone’s heart is not in a job – it’s noticeable to customers as well as management.

    A tip for employees, your intentions speak far louder than your actions. Have the best intentions and it will naturally be noticed.

    In our business, our delivery drivers are a significant part of our exceptional customer service offering.  There’s a difference between a delivery driver who just drops off an appliance to the front door to someone who legitimately wants to make a customer’s life easier. For instance, on an Appliances Online delivery for a microwave, our delivery drivers called the customer contact when they were on their way to tell her that they were close. The contact informed the delivery drivers that the recipient of the microwave had actually just undergone chemotherapy and couldn’t be disturbed until the afternoon because she needed to rest. From their own initiative the drivers rearranged their whole day’s schedule to deliver the microwave in the afternoon. Once at the lady’s house they noticed that her fridge door and the cupboard above the microwave weren’t level. They took it upon themselves to rehinge both as well as fixing the trim kit. That’s going above and beyond and having good will.

    This level of service can’t be replicated unless giving 110% is something that is ingrained within your employees. The key to having engaged employees’ stems from having company values that the whole business strives towards and that the boss or manager lives and breathes.

    We have nine core values at the Winning Group that we encourage all employees, including myself, to consider when interacting with each other, whether they are on the same level or interacting with senior management, and importantly with customers. These include:

    • Impress Every Customer
    • Embrace Change
    • Own Your Role
    • One In, All In
    • Family Matters
    • Be Respectful
    • You’ve got to be Kidding
    • Assume Every Problem is Solvable
    • Be Proud of Your Differences

    A business that has good intentions and staff that care about the customer, will always have a better service offering. So take the time to develop core values that employees can engage with and aspire to – customers will notice!

  • How to cook an innovative business

    28 February, 2013 Company

    I recently had the pleasure of eating at one of the world’s best restaurants, the Fat Duck. It was mesmerising – I was taken on a food journey like nothing I had ever experienced. It made me think that if one of the world’s greatest chefs is a chemist, what type of people will change retail?

    Heston Blumenthal’s food appeals to every sense, he takes risks and experiments on a consistent basis. In today’s retail landscape it’s hard to be gutsy and your offering does get pigeonholed.

    For instance, if you are an online business you are defined as appealing to a certain market, the younger tech-savvy generation, and if you are a bricks-and-mortar retailer you appeal to families and the older generation.

    There are some truths in these statements, but if my recent culinary experience taught me anything it’s that you can dictate your own business model.

    1. Experiment – don’t be afraid to take risks, it will be the very thing that can take your business to another level. Just because you are a shopfront retailer doesn’t mean you can’t introduce technological elements into the shopping experience and vice versa. Target in the US has developed a new urban-based version of its suburban discount superstore called CityTarget. The new stores have been targeted to the specific needs of urban dwellers and business travellers offering free Wi-Fi and mobile checkout.

    2. Appeal to the senses – the visual experience is the foundation of retail whether you’re an online or shopfront retailer. However, can you elevate that experience and seek out new ways to appeal to the customer’s senses. For instance, Crate & Barrel has launched a 3D Room Designer, which allows customers to take a picture and send it to their local stores, so that they can work with a store associate to browse the more than 2,000 items and pick the perfect pieces for their room.

    3. Explore – give yourself the freedom to investigate potential game-changers to your business and industry. Just as it takes time for a chef to perfect his craft and skills, it also takes time for a retailer to develop their perception of a great idea. Despite making $150m revenue in 2012, Fab founders Jason Goldberg and Bradford Shellhammer are devoted to constantly reimagining their business. As Goldberg explained, “I want to know how we build a long-term brand.”

    4. Find the balance – whilst experimentation and exploration is key to innovation, being able to edit your ideas is key to the success of any business. You must find the balance between wowing potential customers and ensuring it’s a comfortable enough experience and offering that they will engage with you on a consistent basis. Android is consistently refining functions and technology. It is listening to its customers and offering fluid interface design rather than locking it down, like other competitors.

    5. Perseverance and allowing an idea to flourish – When Heston Blumenthal opened the Fat Duck it was small pub with a cramped kitchen. He was inexperienced and had limited funds. On the second day of operation the oven exploded. Handling frustration, and what seems like slow growth periods, is an important tool to learn as a business owner. LinkedIn, for instance, is taking its time to refine ideas, to make itself unique. It is a quiet achiever but no one can doubt its success. Simply compare its share price since float to Facebook.

    It will be interesting to watch what happens in retail in the next five years – when I founded Appliances Online, it was a risk and even my father, a successful retail owner, didn’t think it would work. Appliances Online ultimately changed the shape of retail. Innovative retailers will be the ones to flourish. Aim to break the mould and take your customers on a new journey.

  • Dynamic selling: Five tips for selling anything

    15 February, 2013 Company

    Coming from a family who’s been in retail for over 100 years, I have several unique perspectives on sales.

    To begin with, Winning Appliances and Appliances Online are in the business of selling, yet not in the traditional sense of “sales”. We aim to add value and offer the information and advice customers need to come to a decision: not push them to a decision.

    On the other hand, I’ve had countless salespeople call, write, email and even turn up, over the years. I’ve seen the good, the bad and the worst.

    My premise on selling is simple: be dynamic.

    1. Forget what you want

    Multiple times a day someone asks if they can have 10 minutes of my time. If they can come in for a meeting. If I’ll come to their offices. If I can introduce them to the marketing team.

    This tactic falls over because it’s requiring something of the sales target before they’ve even been promised something in return. Forget what you want: offer value immediately, and the next stage will happen on its own.

    2. Don’t “always be closing”

    I love this scene in Glengarry Glen Ross, but it frightens me to know that this is how salesmen often think. If you haven’t seen it, watch this clip.

    This is a tactic that was relevant from my door-to-door salesman days – one of my first jobs.

    Sure, always be moving forward, but not just trying to get a signature on the dotted line. Close the next stage. Close the introduction. Close the meeting. Close the follow-up. Step through the sales process, as each stage is important to the final outcome. Don’t just try and close the sale itself: if you get the lead up right, it’ll close itself.

    3. Be dynamic

    Some salespeople understand the above, but are too inflexible about what the customer might want.

    I know that our marketing team have often requested media kits or case studies via email only to be told by the salesperson that they’d have to come in for a meeting to show me. That they could explain over the phone, but it’d be better in person.

    While I’m all for face-to-face communication, customers purchase in different ways. Sometimes face-to-face isn’t practical: I know that many of our key decision-makers prefer calls and emails because it allows them to be more flexible with their time. Take time to understand how each customer wants to interact with you.

    4. Know the value of a client and the cost of your product

    I was recently in discussion with a software provider that is in competition with one of our current suppliers. We were keen to get on board but we were stuck in our current contract for another 12 months.

    He then offered us the product at no cost for 12 months, and would match the current supplier’s cost from then on. He understood two things:

    • We’d been with our current provider for several years and, given that their product met our needs and was more advanced, we would likely become a long-term customer.
    • Their product has already been developed and there would be minimal ongoing cost for them to offer it at no cost.

    He was investing in our longevity as a client. It also made it easy to compare providers: one had locked us into a contract; another was offering us 12 months free with no contract. Who would you rather deal with?

    It’s like selling raffle tickets for a charity. You can sell them all at three for $5, or you can make deals. How about you buy another $5 worth and I’ll give you five this time? The raffle tickets have no real value, yet the additional revenue does. Of course, this model doesn’t always work – especially not for appliances!

    5. Forget your sales pitch

    Has your sales pitch developed into a monster? Does it make sense? Does it inspire your customer? Does it offer them anything?

    I’ve received so many pitches that have been butchered into obscurity. What does this mean to you? How does it make you feel?

    By leveraging multi-channel user insights and pairing dynamic user experiences we can increase lifetime user value…

    As soon as I hear language like this, I turn off. It actually turns out that this company has a great product that creates dynamic email marketing campaigns for each user, based on what and how they’ve interacted with our site and emails in the past. That’s something we might actually want.

    Forget the superlatives: speak in the customer’s language. Offer them something specific to them and sell them on its value. Making yourself sound clever isn’t as clever as you think!

  • Retailing now: respecting the consumer

    22 January, 2013 Retail

    The January sales period always leaves a lot to be desired in terms of how marketers attract consumers.

    You see all the standard smutty sales tactics out in force and, while these tactics may be mildly successful, they work on the premise that marketers think they are a lot smarter than the average consumer. And they’re not.

    Gone are the days of loss-leading to attract people into a store for the purposes of cross-selling. Gone are the days of ending  prices in 99c or $399. Gone are the days of fear selling to close people on your shop floor and to make them feel like leaving the store will mean they miss out on the deal. The world has caught on to these tactics and consumers are a lot smarter than some retailers make them out to be.

    Here are the days of genuine value, honest commercial relationships and great experiences. Here are the days where we are happy to see a customer come and go as many times as they like – whether they buy from us or not. Here are the days of lifetime value and building genuine long-term relationships. Here are the days of not measuring customers per visit but measuring them on satisfaction and the quality of their experience. Here are the days of creating a shopping experience that will get the consumer talking. Here are the days of transparent retailing, and appreciating that the consumer is wise.

    There has been a power shift from the marketer to the consumer, and the consumer now has the ability to shop when they want, where they want, and to buy products for fair value. The retail experience now needs to be sharp, and marketers need to be truthful.

    I look forward to a bright and transparent 2013.

  • The business planning debate – what works for you?

    2 January, 2013 Company

    Last night I caught a taxi home and had a thought-provoking chat with my driver. He was a 26 year-old single man from Bangladesh, who was in Australia completing his Masters in Computer Networking. Once he’d finished his degree, he planned to move to either Dubai or Singapore, work there for the next 20 to 25 years, before returning to Bangladesh to become a farmer – which was his lifelong dream. Although he liked Australia, (he was really just studying here so that he could earn $70K plus after graduating) it was merely part of his long-term plan to be able to live comfortably back at home.

    I asked why he had such a long-term plan to get to where he wanted to be, and he said he would be happy if he could spend 20+ years of his life working if it meant he could live back in Bangladesh after that point in time. I questioned that he didn’t seem to have a plan that gave him a shot at reaching this goal sooner, however he seemed content that his was a good plan, and one that he was comfortable and happy achieving.

    It goes without saying that the two of us are different people with vastly contrasting cultures, beliefs, family backgrounds and values. However, the idea of such a long-term plan is foreign to me. I understand business planning is important, and our management team has an understanding of where I want the business to be heading; yet I have never considered planning my life so far ahead. I guess the thought of such a long-term plan scares me as I enjoy the fact I don’t know what the future holds, and I don’t want to limit the possibilities by heading in a direction that is so set, for so long. I try to have an idea of a long-term vision but this is always changing as my short-term plans evolve – especially in the ever-changing world of online retail. I try to live no more than one year out, and I believe that by making shorter-term goals it mentally gives me the ability to change direction and take up opportunities even if they don’t fit my longer-term idea at the time. I find by planning one-year or even three-to-six months at a time you can really work to achieve goals faster, with a greater sense of achievement.

    I was recently discussing this with a friend who works as an alcohol rehabilitation counsellor, and he told me he only discusses the past and future two weeks with his patients. The reason he uses this tactic is because making the long-term goal of never drinking again can seem extreme and unachievable with many different hurdles along the way. However, planning not to drink for a two-week period is easier to comprehend. In short, I agree with this approach – as in this case a short-term goal strategy has a higher chance of success.

    A similar method is used in agile software development where short-term “sprints” are assigned and ticked off in a two-week time period, with any larger task requiring more than two weeks completed in a step-by-step approach. This method of development can be extremely efficient and also allows for large projects to be moulded after the project has begun, whilst also giving external stakeholders transparency on its progress. I believe this short-term methodology naturally allows for greater long-term achievement due to its flexibility and structure.

    While I couldn’t convince my taxi-driving friend to change his life plan, it did get me thinking about how different the two of us were in terms of how we live, and plan, for the years ahead. He knows exactly where he is going and I have no doubt he will get there, whereas I only have a vague idea of my path in the long-term and know it will probably end up being vastly different from the way I envisage it today.

    Who has the better method I am not sure, but I do know that we both seemed happy with what we were doing, and our way of going about a life that will be equally rewarding.