Exclusive by Patrick Avenell

MELBOURNE: Clive Peeters MD Greg Smith believes the family culture of his retail group will help the company survive what he believes are the worst economic conditions in 70 years.

Speaking to Current.com.au, Smith said he has tried to retain the core values of his business from its infancy through to its current status as a publicly-listed retail chain. Smith preaches that Clive Peeters is still a “family business”, and the recent decision to let a small number of staff go was not one he made lightly.

“It gets difficult in times likes this where you have to go and put a few people off,” said Smith. “It gets difficult — obviously no-one likes to lose a job, but we have the greater interest of the staff here: we’re trying to preserve 98 per cent of the jobs — you have to do whatever it takes to do that.”

When asked how he viewed the economic troubles that all Australian businesses are currently facing, Smith, who is an accountant by trade, said these were once in a lifetime circumstances.

“We’re living in unprecedented times, this sort of economic downturn hasn’t been seen in 70 years and nearly every company is having a look at its costs, not just in Australia but across the world at the moment,” he said.

There are some positives, however, and Smith believes that with austerity and financial prudence, individuals can survive this period with their jobs.

“The good thing is unemployment in Australia is not yet getting to endemic levels; it’s on the rise, but if you look at some articles, they’re suggesting it’s going to peak in 2010 in the low sixes, and we’ve had an historical average of about 5 per cent in this country, so it’s not that far above our historical average if that’s where it stops.”

Smith also reported that due to improvements in the company’s economies of scale, he projects that around $20 million can be removed from Clive Peeters’ costs by the end of calendar 2010.