Selling the Benefits of Selling

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-By John Boley

The Australian Retailers Association (ARA) has been around for more than 100 years but started off on a largely regional basis. Since its inception in 1903 as the Master Retailer Association of New South Wales, it has gradually come to a position of being Australia’s peak industry body representing the country’s $292 billion retail sector which employs over 1.5 million people.

According to the association’s Executive Director, Russell Zimmerman, changes in recent years have not only enabled it to keep pace with the changing nature of retailing but also to be “far more relevant to our membership now than we probably were. The offering that we have now, across the board, whether you are a small individual or a multi-chain retailer, presents a good reason to belong to the association.” ARA offers services that its members require, he says, such as offering them information in a variety of channels about taxation and tenancy.

“We offer services for tenancy, EFTPOS (electronic funds transfer at point of sale), interchange fees, credit and other cards, industrial relations (which is most important for a lot of small retailers), retail trading conditions, Christmas forecasts, and similar topics.” These are as important for big as well as small retailers, says Russell, because the issues are the same for both in many instances.

Russell himself has been dealing with ARA since 1996 when he was a councillor in New South Wales. In 2004 he became national president and took on the executive directorship in mid-2009. He says he has seen a lot of change in retailing during that time. “I’ve seen the association change and I’ve seen the trials and tribulations of retailers over those years, particularly in the last 12 months. We’ve seen a reinvention of retailers where all of a sudden, retailing online has really come to the forefront.” There are a number of reasons for this, he says, notably a “coming of age.”

Consumers have been searching for a wider range, a better selection of goods, and they were looking to do it at a convenient time. Statistics show the change, says Russell. Sixty per cent of people are watching TV with a laptop, for example. “Ten years ago not many of us had a laptop; now the technology is very affordable.” As products evolve so do the buying trends. People now sit at home and they will buy online while watching TV. “They’ll do a Google search and they find the product they want from the comfort of their lounger. This has caused retailing to change.”

Some see this as a problem, but not Russell. “No, we need to look at it as an opportunity. You can now be a retailer in a suburb in any place in Australia – it might only be a single store – and you could look to the world as though you’re a large retailer.” The internet can lend a small company the same ‘presence’ as a large one and Russell cites a couple of what he believes are good examples: Kogan and Bras ‘n’ Things, both of whom have “great websites.”

The distinctions are blurring, Russell explains. There are hardware stores across the country, he says, which retain a considerable investment in bricks-and-mortar shops, but which also “sell garden sheds across Australia and even more overseas. You can be a retailer in any town in any part of the country and yet you could appear to be a retailer that attracts anybody and everybody. I think that’s where the opportunities are – you can enter a marketplace that’s much bigger than you would have started with.”

Inevitably some retailers are afraid of such a transformation of their playing field but, “I think most of them see it as the opportunity that it really is and want to get involved and make sure that they are going to remain competitive.” He cites some big names of the past that are no longer in the marketplace. “What you’ve got to look at is why those people are no longer in business. They didn’t move with the times, they didn’t put themselves in the right place. Maybe people like K-Mart came along and threatened their existence but if they’d moved with the times and changed their model they’d probably still be here.

“For example, if a retailer comes to us with an issue over tenancy and how they should proceed then we are certainly able to give them the assistance they need or if they inquire about industrial relations – wanting to know if they’re paying correctly – we can ensure they receive the best advice. From a tenancy point of view we’ve got people that can advise them on what rents are within particular shopping centres or areas that they’re looking at retailing in or that they are currently in. We want to make sure they’re not paying too much. Also, as an industry body we are also lobbying government, which is a reason why a lot of the larger retailers want to be involved with the ARA. They may not need some of the advice, they have their own staff for that, but they benefit from our lobbying.” The ARA was present at the Tax Forum. “We lobby state governments on tenancy as well as the Reserve Bank on EFTPOS interchange fees, credit card costs, areas like that. We also lobby government on industrial relations. We talk to the Reserve Bank and State Treasuries quite regularly, on a quarterly basis.”

ARA arranges meetings where ministers and retailers can get together and discuss matters of concern in a relatively informal setting – anything from tenancy costs to parking problems – at the individual state level. Similarly, it organises round-table conferences with the Reserve Bank. In December, ARA was due to take some 20 SME retailers to talk about current issues and what they need from the bank. Obviously they don’t need interest rate increases, so it’s another form of lobbying.”

Attendees and active participants in the association are a true blend of rural and urban, says Russell. “You cannot be an organisation that ignores the needs of a local community. Some of them have unique needs and need to be represented to state government as well as the needs of the larger retailers and smaller retailers in the metropolitan area.”

The environment and sustainability issues are another important area of interaction with members. “It’s very important for retailers to understand and know what they can do within these areas and know what their responsibilities are. They need to be a member of the packaging covenant if they’re over a particular size of retailing.” In this area there are many employment opportunities. Russell cites the example of the imminent introduction of container deposit systems in some states and how this will affect retailers. “We need to be there lobbying governments to make sure that when they put these into proper operation (they’re very good from a sustainability point of view) retailers aren’t bearing the cost of collecting and removal of cans or bottles when they come onto the premises. Here’s an opportunity for the association to lobby the government to ensure that the right things are done, but there’s also an opportunity for people to find roles in some of these jobs that they may not even think exist at the moment.”

ARA does regular media commentary, organises retailer of the year contests and offers many other benefits to its members. The membership fees are, says Russell, very modest and represent value for money, especially given the very practical nature of much of the benefits in hard, useful advice. Its role in retailing looks assured – at least as solid as retailing itself.

Making Sense of Management

Management is the art, or science, of getting things done through people. Sounds fairly straightforward – except for the fact that people are not robots waiting to do our bidding. People have their own minds, motivations, and goals. So how do managers keep operations – and the people behind them – running as planned?

December 19, 2018, 5:32 PM AEDT