I’m up in Hong Kong in a few weeks’ time attending the Retail Technology Expo 2014 with retailers and technology suppliers from Asia, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and the Americas. I’ll also invest time in walking stores and showrooms in Hong Kong and up into southern China.
Last week, Vin Expo was held up there and, in August, Hong Kong will host the Food Expo. All three of these major regional shows allow Australian and New Zealand companies to show their wares, or to look for new innovative things to use within, or sell via, our businesses.
It was also a week when global management consultancy AT Kearney predicted that in Australia up to 20% of grocery sales could be transacted online directly into shoppers’ homes, with half coming from new, pure online grocery retailers, not just Coles and Woolies. The Winemakers’ Federation of Australia, with 2500 member wine companies, also announced the start-up of a new online offering enabling direct sales of its members’ wines to the shoppers’ homes, again without going via retail stores.
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Whilst these things may not be apparently related, it occurred to me that the successful Australian businesses I look at have the two elements highlighted above somewhere in their annual mix.
Their owners and directors invest time and money in travelling to international trade shows and seminars to learn about new ideas and new products. And they invest time and money in harnessing technology to find new ways of incorporating those new ideas or new products into their business, or in reaching customers with new messages and new products. That’s a lot of “new”.
The thought was reinforced when in a meeting last week I sat alongside an owner of a specialist finance software company, who spends at least two weeks a year in the US. The owner, a serial entrepreneur, had the final Skype hook up with a Ukrainian-American developer in Silicon Valley to confirm a contracted involvement in this Australian company. The new developer won’t move to Australia, but will develop from his home in northern California.
So what holds us back? As two nations, Australia and New Zealand have been exporting a higher proportion of our young to the bars and retail stores, beaches and surf breaks of the world, than any other countries on the planet. Why, as it appears from my conversations with many business owners, do we stop travelling when we set up our own businesses?
And it’s not only small businesses. I know of buyers in large retailers and wholesalers who haven’t been allowed to invest in a buying trip for the past three years. They’ve been asked to research new products online. Now forgive me for pointing out the irony of this. The buyers for retailers competing with global online retailers and direct from factory are being asked to shop online for their store.
Living in Canada many years ago the copy line of a coffee company was “those who travel far, know much”. My advice to all Australian business owners is to invest some of your time and money each year in physically traveling to other countries and building relationships with other business people.
And like me, please fly Qantas or Jetstar internationally. Their people and service are good, they are our national carriers, and my Qantas shares need as much help as they can get.
Kevin Moore is a retail expert and the chairman of Crossmark Asia-Pacific Holdings.