Get out of self-destruct mode, focus on what you’re good at

Exclusive by Patrick Avenell

After 20 years in the electrical retail game, Robin Upston knows a lot about the challenges and opportunities in this industry. She thinks the independents have some advantages over the bigger groups, but instead of focusing on them, they’re all in self-destruct mode.

As the co-owners of Ron Upston Retravision in Lilydale, Victoria, Robin and Ron Upston faced stiff competition from the big retailers, with their greater advertising budgets and price discounting, and from the consumers, who were always looking for a better deal. But success in this environment is achievable, as Robin explains.

“We were bartered with and had to compete with very low margins, but we found if you gave the advice and service to the consumer they would be happy to pay a little extra to be able to obtain the service and advice, and also know that they could return to the store and see the same salesperson that they had dealt with,” she said.

The consistency of staff is a big advantage for the smaller stores, according to Upston, with consumers unable to form relationships with salespeople from the bigger groups.

“Big stores have the disadvantage of not being able to do this [form relationships], as the staff have to be rostered. The smaller stores do as the store owner is nearly always in attendance and a lot of them are family run businesses.”

For the Retravision owners who have spoken out recently about how difficult it is with low margins and price wars, Upston thinks they should focus their energy inwards, and look at how to best serve customers in order to generate profits.

“Have salesman forgotten how to find out the consumers’ needs and then steer them to the product that will give the best profit?” she asks, before criticising retail floor staff for being too lazy in dealing with customers.

“Most of the staff these days are order takers and seel from the catalogue, or specials advertised. More focus should be on training sales staff to be able to obtain these skills.”

Upston concludes by outlining the advantages of being an independent, and expresses hope that industry can work through this period, rather than remaining in what she calls “self destruct mode”.

“Should a big store have difficulty in turnover and profit, it is very difficult to cut costs such as rent, and the number of staff required to operate it – it is like trying to turn the Titanic, where a small store can, very quickly, and still survive.”

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