This week SmartCompany is speaking to key members of the small business and startup communities to find out what they want to see in next week’s budget. This is the third instalment of the series, which will be published throughout the week.
Tentworld CEO Jon Burrell leads a team of more than 200 people who work across the retail business that his family has run since the 1960s.
The business has grown substantially over the past three years, from revenue of $42.8 million in 2018 to now approaching a goal of $100 million. Tentworld operates 15 retail stores specialising in all things camping, as well as a growing e-commerce business.
The former Smart50 finalist has ambitious plans to keep growing, but its growth projects are now facing delays as the current skills shortage hits the companies that Tentworld are working with. Making it easier for companies to hire skilled workers from overseas is at the top of Burrell’s budget wish-list.
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These growth projects are all in the IT area, including work on a new website for the business, and Burrell says trying to manage the delays is what keeps him up at night.
The retailer is working with a number of partners to deliver these projects but for those partners, “keeping talent and recruiting new talent” is proving a challenge. Finding these people with a “technical, specific skill set” has become much harder, says Burrell, and its businesses like his that are now trying to manage the blown-out timelines.
The implications for the business’ future growth plans are clear, not to mention the “strain” it can put on other parts of the company and its employees.
What can the government do to help?
Like Sandy Chong from the Australian Hairdressing Council, Burrell would like to see the government make it easier for more skilled workers to come to Australia.
There should be “more and easier options for skilled visa applicants to come” to the country, he says, and potentially other avenues too.
This could include expanding the range of occupations for which workers can apply for visas, suggests Burrell, who notes there is significant demand for tradespeople where he is based in Toowoomba, Queensland.
Do you expect to get what you want?
Many of the business owners Burrell talks to are experiencing similar problems, he says. But he’s unsure whether that means the government will act in Tuesday’s budget.
“You like to think politicians are hearing that message and that they will respond positively,” he says.
In the meantime, the Tentworld team are focused on running their own race, which will likely lead them to enhancing the retailer’s digital offering as well as opening more physical stores as in-store spending recovers post the pandemic.
Consumer spending is returning to a “pre-COVID purchasing style”, says Burrell, with more shoppers visiting Tentworld stores rather than shopping online.