Diary of an Entrepreneur: Surviving 40 years in the changing retail landscape

Diary of an Entrepreneur: Surviving 40 years in the changing retail landscape

Name: Rob Whyte

Company: Aero Design and Aero Plus

Based: Melbourne

Former architect Rob Whyte launched Aero Design back in the early 70s. From opening and closing two stores in London to surviving the onslaught of cheap imported goods and design ripoffs, Whyte’s furniture design and retail ride has been a wild one. Now Aero Design turns over around $5 million a year and Whyte has just opened a new Aero Design showroom in Hawthorn East this month.

Mornings

Whyte starts his day off at a fast pace and early.

“I get up most mornings and go for a run, I’ve done that for 30 years,” he says.

“My knees are wearing out but even when I’m running I think about the business.”

Whyte admits he thinks about Aero Design “24/7”. 

“The problem with that is you become singularly focused and I’m not sure that’s a good thing. It’s taken over from hobbies and I just work in the business all the time. I do enjoy it though.” 

After his run, Whyte’s day starts officially when he goes into the Aero Design warehouse and showroom usually between 7am and 8am.

Daily life

Whyte says every day is different and sometimes he just stays at home in the morning and makes phonecalls, but generally he goes into the warehouse.

“Then I visit the shop and see what is happening there and check out that everything is okay,” he says.

“A lot of time is spent thinking or working out the next thing to do or the next design that we should do.”

Aero design employs about 20 people, including Whyte’s two daughters.

“I get along very well with my two daughters in the business. We are good friends and we are very close,” he says.

“They tell me what they think and I tell them what I think. We reach an understanding of this is the way we should try and this is the way we should go.”

Whyte says there’s no hierarchy between him and his daughters.

“I listen to them as I think they have their finger on the pulse that I used to have,” he says.  

Whyte says one of his daughters is strong in visual merchandising, so she handles that side of the business; the other daughter is “very good at organisation, moving things forward and quelling arguments as they arise”, so she handles that part of the business.

This leaves Whyte to focus on the overall design concept.   

“It’s important that you are passionate about what you do,” he says.

“We have done it for 40 years and my daughters have got that same passion. I’m a dinosaur now and they want to do it their way.”

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